COMMENTARY | With his comment that “people who have crossed our border illegally” started the wildfires that have devastated Arizona, according to the Atlantic Wire, John McCain started a political wildfire of his own. Opposing sides in the immigration debate started throwing their own fireballs, despite the fact that a U.S. Forest Service spokesman, when asked if McCain was right, said “Absolutely not,” reports ABC News.
McCain made his incendiary remarks as several states — including Alabama, Georgia, and Oklahoma — have passed versions of Arizona’s SB 1070, the controversial law that is aimed at illegal aliens and the people who employ and house them.
The reasoning behind these laws is that undocumented workers, while paying no taxes, are exploiting the United States by using hospitals, schools, and other social services. Proponents say that if we stop these workers from draining the tax coffers, we can strengthen the economy and perhaps even end the recession.
But how true are the assumptions behind the new laws?
The fact is that millions of illegal aliens do pay sales taxes, gasoline taxes, property taxes, Social Security taxes, and state and federal income taxes.
Should the public schools be available only to those who pay property taxes? Illegal aliens would qualify. Most of them rent, with landlords passing the taxes down to the renters.
Social Security? When the government deducts Social Security taxes from an illegal worker’s pay, the money is forfeited, since that worker will never get a penny in retirement checks. The amount involved is $7 billion a year. Thus, illegal immigrants are subsidizing the retirement of American citizens.
When an illegal worker using a phony Social Security number has income taxes deducted, no tax refund is issued. Rather than avoiding taxes, these illegal aliens pay at a higher rate than citizens do.
According to a Harvard Law School Study, undocumented workers “actually contribute more to public coffers in taxes than they cost in social services.”
Meanwhile, Exxon Mobile paid no federal income taxes in 2009, reports PoliticusUSA, while General Electric paid no federal income taxes in 2010, according to Daily Tech.
Despite the evidence that illegal workers contribute more to the tax system than they take from it, politicians continue to insist otherwise. Herman Cain says these workers put “a tremendous strain on America’s entitlement and health care systems.”
Newt Gingrich says that we need a “program to ensure that guest workers pay taxes,” while Rudy Giuliani insists that illegal workers need to “start paying their way.” Mitt Romney doesn’t want illegals to “get a tuition break in our schools.”
The newest rising star of the Republican presidential race, Rick Perry, says that we should “track the citizenship status of those receiving state-funded services so we can get our hands around the financial impact of Washington’s failure to handle the immigration challenge.”
But not everyone agrees. According to Dennis Kucinich, “Those who have been here, who have paid their taxes and paid their dues for the last decade need to have a chance to have a path to citizenship.”
John Kerry’s position is that “we need an earned-legalization program for people who have been here for a long time, stayed out of trouble, got a job, paid their taxes, and their kids are American.”
Finally, President Obama, in his 2011 State of the Union speech, said we must “address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. . . . And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who could be staffing our research labs or starting a new business, who could be further enriching this nation.”
The media rarely mention the evidence that undocumented workers pay more in taxes than they use in social services. A story about McCain blaming wildfires on illegal aliens is more likely to get attention, though it doesn’t present many facts about illegal immigration.
The media’s failure to report all of the facts may be one reason why polls have been trending against illegal immigrants.
Given the lack of immigration reform, the polarization of debate, the paucity of general knowledge about undocumented workers, and the tendency of politicians like McCain to light a rhetorical match beneath the problem, illegal immigration promises to remain a hot-button issue throughout the 2012 election cycle and beyond. But as citizens discuss the issue, they may want to surround themselves with the economic facts, rather than the fires of emotion.