Immigration is one of the great polarizing issues in American politics. It is the issue that riles my conservative friends the most. They oppose anything that smacks of amnesty, open borders, or more people entering the country illegally. They argue that those people are prone to committing crimes, lazily devour welfare (while simultaneously taking our jobs), and refuse to assimilate. Those claims are largely untrue. But opponents of broad immigration reform also argue that people who have entered the country illegally broke the law -- and in a nation built on the rule of law, that should mean something. They also argue that a nation must be able to control its borders. Those are valid points.
But overall, immigrants are good for the United States. Modern immigrants, like those who came before, are here to work hard and provide for their families. They want economic opportunity. They embody the American dream -- and they happen to be good for state governments' bottom line.
A terrific report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) says that immigrants who entered the country illegally paid about $12 billion in state and local taxes in 2012. The revenue per state, of course, varies. ITEP found that these immigrants paid about $3 million in Montana (where few live), but over $3.2 billion in California, where an estimated 3.1 million are living. The point is that these immigrants are contributing to the public fisc. They are working.
More significantly, ITEP found that if the estimated 11.4 million immigrants who entered the country illegally were granted legal status, the taxes they would pay would increase by about $2.2 billion. Yes, that requires some kind of amnesty or forgiveness -- but their crime was wanting to be us. It's not as if they are former concentration camp guards or henchmen for Pol Pot. More practically, these 11.4 million immigrants are not leaving, and there is no mechanism for getting them out. They are here cutting our grass, cleaning our houses, and working on our farms. They are also contributing to financing our government. And that is a good thing.
This is an excerpt of an article that appeared in State Tax Notes.