Houston Community News >> Illegal Immigration Cost to Texas

6/1/2006 Houston -- Immigration has emerged as the hot-button issue in politics today, both nationally, and on a state level. In fact, in numerous GOP primary races that LSR covered this year, immigration polled as the number one issue – even above that of school finance. Many, of course, dismiss the issue as a federal one. But there are clear implications to state policy – and clear steps the state can take to get a true picture of the problem. Last year, as the immigration issue was barely bubbling up to the political surface, the staff of the Lone Star Report began an in-depth study to determine the costs of illegal immigration to Texas..

The detailed results will be released in an upcoming issue of LSR, but this article will outline the key findings – and the key policy ramifications of those findings. Based on LSR’s analysis, illegal immigration costs the state a minimum of $4.5 billion a year, with a tax benefit of around $1 billion, for a net cost of $3.5 billion. That number tracks almost exactly the number from a similar study from 2004, drafted by the Federation of American Immigration Reform. And while many costs of immigration are unknowable, there is only one area of public policy where data could shift that number dramatically.

The cost of educating illegal immigrants. When people talk about the cost of illegal immigration, the first images that show up in the debate are immigrants filling our hospital emergency rooms and taking welfare benefits. While those are real and serious costs to Texas, they’re almost insignificant compared to the biggest cost driver – education.

Over 80 percent of the identifiable costs of illegal immigration to the state’s budget come from education. In fact, if education alone was taken out of the picture, immigrant tax receipts might outweigh the costs of social services

The reason for this is that not all immigrants take advantage of Medicaid, CHIP, TANF or other entitlement programs – in fact, the welfare reform legislation of 1996 drastically cut their access to such programs. But education is universal, mandatory, and guaranteed to immigrants, regardless of legal status. The latter is the result of a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Plyler v. Doe, which mandated that Texas provide free education to all children in the state – regardless of citizenship status.

How many children of illegal immigrants are in Texas schools? The short answer is, we don’t know. But even conservative estimates give us startling numbers. Using an estimate of the illegal immigrant population derived from U.S. Census, LSR came up with an estimate of school-aged illegal immigrants 224,000, with a further 300,000 students who are U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. Though such children are technically U.S. citizens, they do represent a cost of illegal immigration.

Estimating the cost of the children precisely is impossible without knowing how much of particular programs are used for this population. It is tempting to assign the costs of limited English proficiency programs to this population, but many children of native citizens – even in the second and third generation – are in fact limited English proficient. Such costs, moreover, are reflected to some degree in the average cost to educate a child in Texas, which according to the most recent numbers from the Texas Education Agency, is $7,136. Using that number alone –which every expert would agree is a conservative one for a population with such characteristics – would give us an education cost of $3.74 billion. To put that in perspective, that wipes out the total federal dollars Texas receives for education, which is $3.6 billion.

In fact, in a recent story in the Houston Chronicle, the number of illegal immigrant children in Houston ISD alone was estimated at between 20,000 to 35,000. Adding in their U.S.-born siblings, the cost for HISD alone would be $333 million to $582 million.

But such estimates are only guesses. Real, hard evidence is denied to the state through the actions of the education bureaucracy, which has taken pains to avoid collecting data on the number of illegal immigrant children.
The Texas Education Agency expressly forbids school districts from keeping the data – even though the demonstrated costs represent a gigantic portion of the state’s education dollars. In its data standards, TEA states: “Districts should not assume responsibility for determining the extent to which students are legal or illegal immigrants under INS regulations.”

Liberal-minded bureaucrats simply don’t want the public to know the data. As University of Texas law professor Barbara Hines told the Chronicle, “There’s no reason to ask. Even if you could do it legally, why would you want to? It has a chilling effect.”

Hines’ point is that the state has to educate illegal immigrants anyway, therefore it is not necessary to know how many there are. But this begs the argument, why keep any statistics? Texas records data on the number of blacks, whites and Hispanics, even though their access to schools is guaranteed. The state also keeps extensive data on the achievement of those races.

In terms of Hispanics, it is likely that the test scores of citizen Hispanics are higher than those of non-citizen Hispanics, but the state has no way to know. The fact that a significant portion of the Hispanic population is effectively (at first at least) a product of the Mexican eduction system raises questions about overall Hispanic achievement.
Knowing how many illegal immigrant children were in the system would give legislators a more accurate picture of the state’s progress. The same could be said about dropout rates or any other area of achievement. In no other area of state government, is such an important statistic, which affects the state in such a dramatic way, not kept.

Other findings
Education is only the biggest, but certainly not the only area in which a lack of information hampers a true assessment of the costs of immigration. Using proxies, such as a lack of social security numbers, some guesses can be made at the costs of emergency room care. The Texas Hospital Association has estimated the annual cost of uncompensated care to illegal immigrants at nearly $400 million a year. But not all costs are uncompensated. Through emergency Medicaid, the state picks up about $100 million a year of the costs of illegal immigration.

In higher education, however, we do know some of the costs of illegal immigrant students. Through House Bill 1403, passed in 2001, illegal immigrants have access to in-state tuition, a benefit that most legal immigrants don’t even have. (See Feb. 17, 2006 LSR). The cost to the state for that subsidy alone is $34.5 million a year.

Children with Special Health Care Needs
While immigrants or their children represent a portion of many state entitlement programs, their costs are much lower than those of citizens. Of course, there is an immigrant-only version of the Children’s Health Insurance Program, but compared to regular CHIP, it’s a drop in the bucket.

In one area, however, an entitlement program meant for all Texans has become almost the exclusive domain of immigrants: the Children with. Special Health Care Needs program.

CSHCN is a supplemental health care program designed to help indigent children with extraordinary or chronic health care problems that are too expensive to treat in traditional Medicaid. Although the program does not distinguish between legal residents and illegal residents, the number of non-citizens in the program is dramatic. In December of 2005, there were 1,452 non-citizens in the program – 68.8 percent of all clients enrolled. Furthermore, more than three-quarters of the cost of the program – 78.9 percent – is spent on these non-citizens.

The dramatic costs of illegal immigration to the state’s budget, are clearly a cause for concern to taxpayers.

(Contributed by East Texas Weekly Community Newspaper)