As reported previously by the media, Representative Don Pridermore drafted an Arizona copy-cat law that would, among other things, detain those charged with a crime if they are unable to show legal identification. Detainees would have no more than 48 hours to prove their legal presence; and if they are unable to do so, they would be turned over to federal immigration authorities.
On Monday, El Conquistador contacted Pridemore's office to discuss the impact of AB 173 on the Hispanic community. We posed five specific questions relating to the fiscal impact of illegal immigration and the prospect of drug trades and human trafficking in Wisconsin. Pridemore's office did not provide an official response, but we are hopeful he's willing to show some transparency and follow his constitutional duty to the public to keep us informed about his legislative actions.
On Pridemore's website, he says that drug trades and human trafficking have put the lives of those on the border in peril. He says, "We must do all we can to dissuade the criminal element from looking at Wisconsin as a safe haven."
Of course, AB 173 is supposed to be that deterrence. Pridemore wants us to believe that passing his immigration bill would protect our state from the future threat of Mexican drug cartels. A $140 billion a year drug trade is a serious problem for states like Texas, Arizona, and California. But Wisconsin is not a border state. We do not have Mexican drug cartels waging bloody battles across our state lines, nor do we have a preponderance of human trafficking in our state.
The Mexican drug cartels are a major concern for border states, but problems regional to southwestern states shouldn't be used to bolster anti-immigrant laws in the Midwest. Until Pridemore is able to show that these problems are a real and verifiable concern for Wisconsin, his argument remains only a search for validity.
Pridemore's website also states that his bill would prevent illegal immigrants from obtaining taxpayer-funded benefits "for which they are not entitled" and that the status quo is "unacceptable in terms of the costs of law enforcement, crime, taxes, and social benefits."
His inference, quite clearly, is that undocumented immigrants are a burden to taxpayers. Jason Riley, author and editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal, argues against Pridemore's point.
In "Let them In: a Case for Open Borders," Riley highlights an economic report by Texas Comptroller Carole Strayhorn showing that undocumented immigrants "generate more taxes and revenue than the state spends on them." Texas' Comptroller stated that if Texas' 1.4 million undocumented immigrants were to disappear, the state would lose an estimated gross state product of $17.7 billion. The Comptroller's office also estimated that state revenues from undocumented immigrants far exceeded what the state had spent on them - to the tune of $424.7 million.
For contextual purposes, it's important to note that Texas is the top state in the union for doing business. During the Great Recession, Texas' stomped right through a sluggish economy and created more jobs than half the country combined. This proves that the burden to taxpayers is not so much about illegal immigration as it is about the economic policies of state governments. Why? Well, because Texas is home to the second largest undocumented population in the nation.
Undocumented immigrants are not the problem, they are a contributing factor in Texas being the undisputed leader in both job creation and business climate. According to Riley, Mexican-born undocumented males have the highest employment rate - 94% labor participation - of any demographic in the county. This is due to the fact that they are young, healthy, and exceedingly mobile to follow the work where it leads them. This too contributes to Texas' economic success.
Also a 1998 study by Beach showed that a typical Latino couple gives nearly $350,000 more in Social Security taxes than are spent on them in a lifetime as a beneficiary of welfare benefits. Instead of burdening taxpayers, undocumented immigrants invest in their Social Security, drive down their product prices, and stimulate their local economies. Perhaps Mr. Pridemore should find real reasons to advance his immigration bill, reasons that don't create a crisis to scapegoat undocumented immigrants.
Instead of a sledgehammer approach, perhaps the GOP should consider what Utah is doing. Utah Republicans proposed a guest-worker program that employs undocumented immigrants through a legal permit contingent upon predefined qualifications. Among other things, undocumented immigrants would pay a $2,500 fine, must have no pre-existing medical debt, and pass a routine background check. It's not a silver bullet for immigration reform, but it's better than alienating a growing segment of our society.