As should be known to anyone who’s ever done any opinion writing (including legal briefs), it’s always smart to deal with the strongest opposing arguments not by ignoring them but by getting ahead of them – acknowledging them and showing why they’re wrong. If only someone had told this to researchers at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). The organization has just issued a report on taxes paid by America’s illegal immigrants with no mention whatever of basic contextual information that badly undercuts its findings.
According to ITEP, as opposed to the conventional wisdom, America’s estimated 11.4 million illegal immigrants “pay billions of dollars in local, state, and federal taxes” and, even better, “their tax contributions would increase under immigration policy reform.” How many billions? The Institute looked at 2012, and claims that this population contributed a total of $11.84 billion to state and local coffers.
Sound impressive? Maybe – until you ask about the states’ and localities’ total tax haul that year. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it was $1.0602 trillion (when you add up the annual numbers in reports like this). But that figure includes corporate income tax levels, whereas the illegal immigrant total no doubt overwhelmingly represents taxes on individuals. If we remove those business taxes, though, 2012 state and local income taxes still amounted to $1.0110 trillion. So the illegal population’s share was a bare 1.17 percent.
Also important is knowing how illegal immigrants’ share of state and local tax payments compares with those of the legal population. The answer? Not impressively. America’s overall population in 2014 was about 320 million, and the 11.4 illegals add up to 3.56 percent of the figure. So proportionately, they pay only about one-third the taxes of all residents of the United States, and a lower share of the taxes of legal residents.
This information renders positively comical ITEP’s contention that legalizing the entire illegal population would boost annual state and local tax revenues by $2.2 billion annually. And that’s before even asking about the drain on state and local resources that would result from complete amnesty, or about the magnet effect of legalization on low-income populations in Latin America and around the world.
ITEP’s description of these miniscule illegal immigrant tax payments and their future potential as “significant” makes clear that its report aimed to strengthen the case for legalizing this population. But by for any reader with even a hint of common sense, it accomplishes exactly the opposite goal.