25,000 Oklahoma illegals could benefit from executive order but costs unknown


By Arthur Kane | Watchdog.org

Only about 25,000 illegal immigrants in Oklahoma are likely to benefit from President Barack Obama’s immigration executive order, but that modest number of people still could cost taxpayers nearly $200 million a year if they receive full welfare, Social Security and other benefits.

However, the good news is that the executive order will save some taxpayer money until, and if, Congress provides the benefits because the newly protected citizens likely will pay more taxes, according to a Heritage Foundation study.

OKLAHOMA COSTS: State officials haven’t started estimating the costs of 25,000 immigrants allowed to say in Oklahoma under the Obama executive order.

Obama said the newly nondeportable will not get benefits under his order, but critics say it’s tough to see how they will not eventually qualify for entitlements.

“It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive — only Congress can do that” Obama told Americans in his immigration address. “All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.”

But Robert Rector, senior Heritage Foundation fellow, said providing Social Security numbers to currently undocumented workers eventually will provide many retirement and Medicare benefits, and congressional action could bring those people fully into means-tested benefits like welfare, Affordable Care Act subsidies and tax credits.

“Everyone gets that a person with a 10th-grade education receives a lot more in benefits than the taxes that they pay, but even conservatives underestimate the magnitude of the costs,” said Rector, who did a study for the conservative think tank last year of how much taxpayers would spend on the formerly illegal immigrants if they are allowed to stay in the United States. “Very few people understand how much income transfer occurs from the upper middle class to lower class people.”

Nationwide, the best guess is about 4 million (possibly 5 million) — or about 33 percent — of the 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants estimated to be in the United States will benefit from the executive order. So extrapolating to the roughly 75,000 illegal immigrants that a 2011 Pew Center study determined lived in Oklahoma, the figure of state’s immigrants benefiting from the Obama order is about 25,000.

Steven Camarota, director of Research for the Center for Immigration Studies, said exact state and national figures are hard to come by since the people are not here legally.

“There’s no reason to believe the distribution will be different state by state from national figures,” he said. “But it’s really a guestimate.”

The real question is what all those new immigrants will cost taxpayers. The costs depends on a number of factors, including whether the immigrants benefiting from the order also will receive entitlement benefits like welfare, Affordable Care Act subsidies and Medicaid.

Rector’s study shows the average illegal immigrant household, defined at 3.7 people, receive a net of about $14,000 in taxpayer-funded benefits more than the taxes they pay before the executive order.

“In 2010, the average unlawful immigrant household received around $24,721 in government benefits and services while paying some $10,334 in taxes,” the study said, including public education, infrastructure and other services as taxpayer-funded benefits.

But the study shows legalization initially will lower that net household benefits draw to about $11,000 a household a year because protected immigrants will be able to get better paying jobs and pay more taxes, and the government will be able to better collect taxes on jobs that are currently paid “under the table” in cash.

But that equation flips around if the immigrants qualify for benefits like welfare, ACA subsidies and tax credits, the study shows. The net cost of those households would be $28,000 a year or in Oklahoma about $189 million a year, multiplying the Heritage study household estimates by the average illegal immigrant households in the state.

Nationwide, the Heritage study said the immigrants protected by the executive order would receive $9.4 trillion benefits but pay only $3.1 trillion in taxes over their lives.

“These costs would have to be borne by already overburdened U.S. taxpayers,” the study says.

But Oklahoma officials haven’t started estimating the costs.

“Considering that it’s not even a day old yet, no” the state hasn’t figured out the costs, wrote John Estus, spokesman for the Oklahoma Management and Enterprise services in an email last week.

TAXPAYER OUTLAY: Heritage Foundation fellow Robert Rector estimates the immigrants allowed to stay under executive order could end up costing taxpayers trillions.

Rector said it’s nearly impossible to imagine that the newly legal immigrants won’t eventually receive additional benefits because programs like the ACA depend on full participation and Americans won’t allow people to suffer in poverty without some assistance.

“How can Congress say you can stay but we’re not going to give you access to medical care, food stamps,” Rector said. “That’s just not going to happen.”