Anti-immigrant PAC’s spend million each year to convince you what an overwhelming threat the undocumented are to the national economy.
Finding out if that’s true or not costs nothing.
The Congressional Budget Office – far from a left wing bastion - believes that between 50 percent and 75 percent of all undocumented immigrants pay federal, state, and local taxes each year.
Undocumented workers also contribute about $15 billion a year to Social Security through payroll taxes, the CBO says.
And according to the IRS about six million undocumented immigrants file individual income tax returns. Add to that immigrants tend to spend what they earn on rent, gas, cable, phone, internet (including an IRS taxpayer ID number charge to secure a credit score to rent an apartment or lease a car) and all are poured into the nation's coffers every day.
So according to the Economic Policy Institute and almost all economists on the left and right, immigrants – documented and undocumented – clearly benefit the American economy.
Because they long ago realized that the benefits outweigh the costs, most US economists long ago concluded that the barrier to immigration reform is much less economic than it is political.
As Irish people we were once unwilling participants in this punishing game ourselves; we should remember how it was played and who set the rules.
There are few who would argue now that that the Irish contribution to the United States has not been greatly to the nation’s advantage. But in the 19-century thousands of angry Nativists insisted that no good would ever come of permitting us to dock.
The native press, politicians and clergy had already done their jobs. For decades they had portrayed us as indolent drunken parasites, layabouts and loafers who would infect the body of the nation like an uncontainable virus.
What defeated them was our determination – the sheer size of our numbers - and time.
The mass arrival of the Irish to America in the 19-century did not bankrupt the eastern seaboard or plunge the nation into chaos. What it actually did – and what it had threatened to do – was alter the social and political calculus in ways that were at first feared and eventually embraced.
Ironies abound in this debate. Undocumented immigrants cost the US taxpayer about $10.4 billion per year, according to the conservative leaning Center for Immigration Studies.
However they make up for this in a myriad of ways, with $15 billion in yearly Social Security payments being just one example.
Meanwhile a new US-Mexico border fence is being constructed for an estimated $22.4 billion. White House budget reports obtained through Freedom of Information Act - alongside congressional transcripts – in 2011 show that the cost of maintaining the border over ten years amounted to $90 billion.
We are continually spending much more combating undocumented immigration than undocumented immigration actually costs us, in other words.
But the objections to reform aren’t economic, they’re political. Fear of changing demographics, fear of losing the balance of power, fear of the unspecified threats of an unknown culture, and fear itself.
If that sounds familiar to us, it should. We had to fear down every one of those fears ourselves. We should be sharing our own experience as Irish Americans and helping to defuse this fractious debate. As one of our number once said famously, “we do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Not because it’s easy, but because we know all too well that it’s hard.