More than 40,000 immigrants in TN may benefit from Obama action


By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — About 44,000 of Tennessee’s estimated 130,000 illegal immigrants may benefit from President Obama’s decision to provide them with temporary legal status and work permits.

The costs to taxpayers are unknown, although Obama did say these illegal immigrants won’t receive such taxpayer-funded benefits as Medicaid, Social Security and welfare.

State Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, said he doesn’t take Obama at his word.

State Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden

Immediately after Obama’s announcement, Holt and State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, announced a joint resolution asking Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to take legal action against the president.

“If you like your doctor then you can keep your doctor,” Holt told Tennessee Watchdog, mimicking what Obama said about the Affordable Care Act, a statement many people now believe was, purposefully or not, untruthful.

“I think what Obama said was a lie.”

Holt thinks Obama is acting outside his own authority by bypassing Congress through executive action.

“It doesn’t matter what Obama’s politics are. It doesn’t matter what his color is. It doesn’t matter if he thinks the way I do. This is a purely constitutional issue.”

Officials with the Tennessee Democratic Party didn’t immediately return requests for comment Monday.

Tennesseans are still left to wonder what this or any future action by Congress might mean for their pocketbooks.

Costs of amnesty

A new Pew Research Center study estimates Tennessee has 130,000 illegal immigrants. Experts say 33 percent of the nation’s possible 5 million immigrants will benefit from Obama’s executive order, which roughly translates to 44,000 illegal immigrants in Tennessee.

While Obama’s order won’t provide those aforementioned benefits, what would happen if Congress gave Social Security or Medicaid to illegal immigrants?

Tennessee Department of Human Services spokeswoman Stephanie Jarnagin said Monday no one at her agency has studied what affect giving taxpayer-funded benefits to the state’s illegal immigrants would have on the budget .

Last year the Heritage Foundation released a study showing that in 2010 the average illegal immigrant household received around $24,721 in government benefits and services while paying about $10,334 in taxes.

Will President Obama’s actions granting temporary legal status and work permits for around 5 million illegal immigrants be too costly for Tennesseans?

“Amnesty would provide unlawful households with access to over 80 means-tested welfare programs, Obamacare, Social Security, and Medicare. The fiscal deficit for each household would soar,” according to study authors Robert Rector and Jason Richwine.

Amnesty, the authors go on, would take place over a series of phases that would eventually culminate in a net fiscal deficit of about $22,700 per retired amnesty recipient per year.

“If amnesty is enacted, the average adult unlawful immigrant would receive $592,000 more in government benefits over the course of his remaining lifetime than he would pay in taxes,” the authors wrote.

“Over a lifetime, the former unlawful immigrants together would receive $9.4 trillion in government benefits and services and pay $3.1 trillion in taxes. They would generate a lifetime fiscal deficit (total benefits minus total taxes) of $6.3 trillion.”

That figure, Rector and Richwine continued, is a minimum estimate that understates the number of illegal immigrants who will actually receive amnesty and it also underestimates the future growth of welfare and medical benefits.

Legal issues

Beavers said Obama’s decision might still force Tennessee to raise taxes.

“It’s interesting that it comes at this time, just when the governor is getting ready to start budget hearings and that is very much something we will have to decide. Are we going to fight this? Are we going to sue? Or put the burden on the taxpayers of Tennessee?”

Attorneys general in Oklahoma and Texas have reportedly announced they will take legal action.

Regardless of whether Haslam acts, a budget battle will ensue in the Tennessee Legislature if Obama has his way, Beavers said.

Photo courtesy Tennessee General Assembly's official website.

State Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet

“I think it certainly means a tax increase would have to be proposed, and I think most of us in the Legislature right now would be against that. They are certainly against any cuts in the budget in order to fund something like this,” Beavers said.

She’s not sure what kinds of tax increases the average Tennessee resident could expect.

Leigh Ann Apple Jones, spokeswoman for Tennessee Attorney General Herb Slattery, told Tennessee Watchdog his office is still trying to decide if the situation warrants litigation.

Haslam spokesman Dave Smith said the governor wasn’t happy with the decision.

“The governor believes the country is ready for a real conversation about immigration, and he is disappointed in the president’s approach because he fears it will ruin that unique opportunity,” Smith said.

Contact Christopher Butler at

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