On Boyles, Heritage Foundation's Rector distorted provisions of immigration bill, gave dubious estimate of immigration's cost


On his June 8 broadcast, 630 KHOW-AM's Peter Boyles and his guest, Robert Rector of the conservative Heritage Foundation, misrepresented proposed immigration reform legislation in asserting that its enforcement provisions "would occur after" an "amnesty." Additionally, Rector gave dubious figures regarding the cost of "low-skill" immigrants versus what they pay in taxes.

Discussing proposed immigration reform legislation on the June 8 broadcast of his 630 KHOW-AM show, host Peter Boyles joined guest Robert Rector -- a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation -- in misrepresenting the draft legislation to assert that its enforcement provisions "would occur after" the measure allegedly provided "amnesty" for current undocumented immigrants. Rector also made dubious estimates of the fiscal impact that immigration resulting from the bill would have.

Boyles and Rector were discussing Senate legislation that had been introduced as Senate Bill 1348 and was being considered under an amendment that would substitute for the entire bill, Senate Amendment 1150; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) withdrew the entire bill from consideration on June 7.

From the June 8 broadcast of 630 KHOW-AM's The Peter Boyles Show:

RECTOR: And then the Bush administration's tried to come out and, and tell Republicans that there's, there, there's good stuff in this amnesty bill when in fact there wasn't any good stuff in it. The enforcement provisions were all just the status quo, nothing new. They all -- the, to the extent enforcement occurred, it would occur after the amnesty, which is exact repetition --


RECTOR: -- of 1986. And, and you can fully expect that the open-borders crowd --The Wall Street Journal and so forth -- within, before the ink would dry on this --

BOYLES: Mmm-hmm.

RECTOR: -- they would be back out trying to block those, those prohibitions on the employment of, of illegals, which is exactly what they did 20 years ago.

BOYLES: Absolutely.

Contrary to Rector's assertion that enforcement measures would come only "after the amnesty," Colorado Media Matters has noted that Section 1 of S.A. 1150 indicated that the provisions of the bill that would create a special "Z visa" for illegal immigrants (Title VI) and a guest worker program (Title IV) would become effective only upon a written certification from the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that triggering provisions "are funded, in place and in operation." Those provisions include "Staff Enhancements for Border Patrol," "Strong Border Barriers," a "Catch and Return" program for the detention and removal of aliens apprehended while crossing the border with Mexico, and "Workplace Enforcement Tools." As the Los Angeles Times reported (registration required), illegal immigrants who were in the United States before 2007 would immediately have six months to a year to apply for probationary status. That status would allow them to remain in the United States and apply for a "Z visa," but only after DHS certified that the enforcement triggering provisions were met.

Rector also touted a study he conducted for the Heritage Foundation in which he calculated that, on average, low-skill immigrants receive $20,000 more per year in public benefits than they pay in taxes.

RECTOR: My study is actually on low-skill immigrants, which -- illegals are mainly low-skill -- but what I find -- I'm looking at both -- I'm looking at immigrant households that don't have, where the head doesn't have a high school degree. About half of those are illegal, about half of them are legal. And what I find is that the household that was headed by a high school dropout -- doesn't matter whether they're illegal, or legal immigrant, or native born -- they all cost the taxpayer a bundle. And these illegal -- these low-skill immigrant households, of which are about 5 percent of the U.S. population now, on average they receive about 30,000 dollars a year in government benefits. And that includes Social Security, Medicare, about 60 different means-tested welfare programs, the cost of educating kids in the school, which on average now in the U.S. is 9,600 dollars per child, per year. And then some things like sewers, and police, and fire protection, and things like that. So it's 30,000 dollars in benefits that they get. They pay about 10,000 dollars in taxes. They don't pay much of any income tax, because they're low income. They do pay a lot of state sales tax. They pay property taxes. They pay a little bit of Social Security tax -- the ones that are legal do, at least. And -- and so there's a gap there of about 20,000 dollars a year where the benefits are greater than the taxes they pay in. And somebody else has to be paying for that, and that somebody else happens to be the upper-middle class. It's the equivalent of purchasing an automobile for each of these households every year of their lives. And the total cost of this group of low-skill immigrants to the taxpayer each year is, is around 90 billion dollars.

As Colorado Media Matters has noted, Rector has a history of dubious scholarship on matters related to immigration policy, including a Heritage study whose projection of immigration resulting from a 2006 immigration reform proposal over a 20-year period reportedly was rejected by demographers as seemingly "wrong on its face."

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