ShareThis Page

Heritage scholar strikes back

| Saturday, May 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Robert Rector is the senior research fellow in domestic policy for The Heritage Foundation and co-author of a Heritage study released Monday on the Senate immigration reform bill. He spoke to the Trib regarding the report, which estimates the bill would cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion in new entitlements and social programs.

Q: Many people would consider $6.3 trillion a staggering sum. How did you arrive at the figure?

A: Well, we look at the cost of the illegal immigrants for the rest of their lives, because what you are doing is opening up their access to benefits for the rest of their lives — Social Security and Medicare, for example. And one way to understand this number is that there are 10 million illegal immigrants, they are going to get benefits on average for 50 years after they get amnesty and the average cost, benefits minus taxes per year, is around $12,000. That comes out to $6 trillion.

Q: But won't they also be earning more money and paying more taxes than they do now if they are legalized?

A: We do assume that. We looked at the 1986 amnesty. The evidence of that showed about a 5 percent wage increase as a result of the amnesty. We built that into the analysis. These individuals do work. They will continue to work until they are in their 60s. But it's kind of a myth that people have that if people hold jobs and work that somehow they are net tax contributors, that they are going to pay more than they take out in benefits.

Q: What's the reality?

A: A person that does not have a high school degree, they can work, they can pay taxes, but they still are going to take $3 to $4 in benefits for every dollar of taxes they pay in. They are going to do that every year of their lives. Someone else has to pay that (benefits) cost. I don't mind doing that for a U.S.-born citizen. I think we have a moral obligation. But we cannot afford to do this for 10 million people whose claim on our resources is that they broke our laws.

Q: Your study has taken a lot of heat from traditionally conservative circles. Were you expecting that?

A: Those are not what you would call traditional conservative circles. Those are all open-border advocates who really believe that people should have an unlimited right to come to the United States and become U.S. citizens. Milton Friedman, the great conservative economist, said long ago that you really can't have open borders and a welfare state. You can't allow anyone to come here and get access to all these government programs because that will bankrupt the country. The problem with these open-border advocates is that they've never been able to really adjust to that reality. They like to pretend that somehow the United States is like Dodge City in 1870 and the whole cost of government is Wyatt Earp and his deputies.

Q: What impact do you believe the report will have on the lawmakers who are considering this issue? Do you think it will help sway the argument toward defeating the bill?

A: I believe it will. I think the advocates for the bill have been saying (amnesty) doesn't cost anything, and that's really been completely untrue all along. So now they have to step forward and really confront these costs, or find a way to say there's really something wrong with the way this assessment was made. They are not going to have any luck with that latter thing.

Eric Heyl is a staff writer for Trib Total Media (412-320-7857 or

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.