The immigration debate is generating a lot of controversy on both sides of the aisle. One former US Senator says immigration reform will cost taxpayers trillions of dollars. But reform supporters are saying his study has no leg to stand on.
Former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, a Republican, is president of The Heritage Foundation. They recently published a study claiming immigration reform will cost about $6.3 trillion dollars-and that's a conservative estimate. Meanwhile, fellow Republican Marco Rubio has come out against the study, calling it "deeply flawed"
"Amnesty is really getting in the way of a message of opportunity. A message that's really going to create a better future for all of Americans," says DeMint.
Former Senator Jim DeMint disagrees with what he calls "blanket amnesty", saying for one, it sends the wrong message that if immigrants arrive in the US illegally, sooner or later they'll be granted amnesty and citizenship. The Heritage Foundation study estimates reform will cost $6.3 trillion and will cover the cost of government benefits like social security, welfare, and disability. Critics say it's an unrealistic number, saying immigrants will contribute so much to the overall economy that it will offset the costs. DeMint disagrees.
"A lot of that has to do with the fact that we have expanded our welfare program dramatically over the last 30 to 40 years and so a lot of our population, lawful or otherwise, have been trapped into a dependable relationship with the government."
The study is based on demographics which say illegal immigrants are less likely to have a high school education and more than a third of the households live below the poverty line. Meanwhile, Florida Senator Marco Rubio is digging his claws into the numbers.
"It overestimates the number of people that are going to be counted in the system, it includes four million kids that are already living here now. A quarter of the costs is for traffic and police and firefighters and parks and roads, public services that are already being provided. Another quarter of the costs are in social security and Medicare. Programs that, as currently structured, if they're not reformed, won't even exist in ten years, much less fifty," says Rubio.
DeMint admits the cost covers some already benefiting from the government. But consider, once immigrants obtain citizenship, they are allowed to bring over elderly parents who will not be paying taxes. His study estimates that each household would be taking nearly $600,000 more in government benefits than would be paid in taxes. DeMint believes there is a less expensive road to reform while still providing opportunity.
"So I think if Republicans want to win the Hispanic vote, they need to demonstrate that they care about them, they're interested in them, and that we're going to create the opportunities and jobs with our policies."
DeMint wants to see job creation, real border enforcement, and a worker ID system telling workers who is legal and who isn't. He says it wouldn't cost much, and it would take a few policy changes but claims it would pay off in the long run.