Immigration Reform 2013: Is Jim DeMint's Estimate Of a $6 Trillion Price Tag Accurate?


The latest salvo in the immigration reform fight has come on the economic consequences of the bill. Former South Carolina Senator and current president of the conservative Heritage Foundation Jim DeMint claimed that the current immigration reform proposal would cost "trillions" on Sunday.

DeMint is part of the conservative faction that is leading the charge against the immigration reform bill, seeking a defeat like the one that faced an ignominious 2007 attempt at similar legislation. His remarks come as numerous Republicans from Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) stake out their opposition to the bill ... but there are those on the right who are fighting for immigration reform and attempting to counter DeMint's misleading fiscal narrative.

DeMint spoke on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. He claimed that the current immigration reform bill would cost the United States economy "trillions." The clip can be seen below:

DeMint's comment was based on a study that his organization, the Heritage Foundation, released on Monday. The study is an update of a 2007 study that assisted in the defeat of former President George W. Bush's effort at immigration reform. Then, immigration reform was said to cost $2.6 trillion. In this particular case of sequel bloat, the new study drops a figure of a $6.3 trillion cost, more than double the previous study's estimate.

Heritage claims that $9 trillion will be paid in social assistance to newly legalized immigrants while only $3 trillion will be paid in taxes in return. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office has not yet scored the bill, but DeMint preemptively attacked their findings, calling the CBO "puppets of the Congress and the assumptions they put in the bill" on Sunday. When the CBO scored the 2007 immigration reform bill, it found that immigration reform would have reduced the deficit by $25 billion.

Fellow conservative groups have criticized the study. The Cato Institute called the last study the Heritage Foundation made "fatally flawed." Another study released by the American Action Forum in April claimed that immigration reform would reduce the deficit. Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum and a leading Republican economic adviser, argued that the increased immigration from the bill would be a net positive to the economy.

In his study he writes:

"A rudimentary analysis of these impacts suggests that in absence of immigration, the population and overall economy will decline as a result of low U.S. birth rates. A benchmark immigration reform would raise the pace of economic growth by nearly a percentage point over the near term, raise GDP per capita by over $1,500 and reduce the cumulative federal deficit by over $2.5 trillion."

The Heritage Foundation has not responded to the American Action Forum's study and DeMint claims that Heritage is "the only organization that has done an analysis on the cost."

As the immigration reform debate echoes through the halls of Congress the cost-benefit calculation of the bill will become another important rallying cry for both sides of the immigration reform debate. But as these dueling studies clearly show, they may be unable to even agree on the numbers to use in their arguments.