Illegal aliens already eligible for retirement programs, says Heritage Foundation critic

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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The conservative Heritage Foundation’s $6.3 trillion cost estimate for the amnesty bill is overstated because taxpayers are already on the hook to pay most of the costs used to calculate that total, said Robert Lynch, an immigration expert at the progressive Center for American Progress.

Heritage’s comprehensive prediction that it will cost $6.3 trillion over 50 years to legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants includes the cost of putting all of them on national retirement programs, such as Social Security and Medicaid.

But current law allows American-born, adult children of illegal aliens to seek green cards for their parents and siblings, Lynch told a May 29 panel discussion hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The exclusion of that loophole is “astonishing,” said Lynch, who backs the controversial immigration rewrite that would bring in 30 million immigrants over the next 10 years.

Heritage study author Robert Rector fired back, saying half of the current population of roughly 11 million illegal immigrants has U.S.-born children that could enroll them in retirement programs, which cost taxpayers roughly $22,000 per retiree each year. And the amnesty would allow all illegal immigrants to sign up for retirement programs, and also to bring in millions of their relatives who could also sign up for the retirement programs.

“If your interest is saving the American taxpayer trillions of dollars, close that loophole,” Rector said. “We should not grant amnesty and we should also close that loophole.”

The 11 million illegal immigrants have an average education equivalent to the 10th grade, said Rector. If amnestied, the May 6 Heritage Foundation report states they would be on track to received $9.3 trillion in benefits over the next 50 years, and pay $3 trillion in taxes — just like similarly unskilled Americans.

“We cannot afford to throw away $6 trillion on individuals whose claim to those resources is that they came here in violation of our laws,” Rector said. “It is an unnecessary burden on U.S. taxpayers.”

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a GOP-affiliated economist who supports the Gang of Eight’s controversial immigration bill, also slammed Rector for not calculating possible cost-savings from future reforms of the retirement programs.

With the Heritage report, “we have proven than an unsustainable American safety net will be more unsustainable if we put more bodies in it… the [programs] will certainly not survive if you put more people into them,” said Holtz-Eakin, the president of the Republican-affiliated American Action Forum.

By not discounting future spending that is inevitable, he told Rector, “we’re putting the analyst in the position of future congresses… [so] you don’t know the numbers.”

“When those programs go to be reformed … I predict that those things [payments to low-skill immigrants and Americans] will not be cut,” Rector countered.

Holtz-Eakin also tried to downplay Rector’s $6.3 trillion cost estimate, saying other factors may be more important.

“We don’t want to skew the debate over things we can measure, when there are lots of things we can’t measure that may be more important in the end,” such as the market’s demand for welders and other workers, said Holtz-Eakin.

“The last thing in the world we should do a as nation is have an immigration policy that drives down the wages of the lest advantaged, most vulnerable worker,” answered Rector. “We do owe them some things as American citizens and we should not use an immigration system that makes it difficult for them to participate in the American dream.”

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