Category Archives: Public Policy and Governance

About Those “Illegals”

The Economic Policy Institute recently released a comprehensive report on immigration and the economy. The report was massive, and it included reams of information on both legal immigrants and the undocumented persons often labeled “Illegal.”

In one section of the report, researchers addressed a common accusation–that undocumented workers are a burden on government, and a net cost to taxpayers.

Unauthorized immigrants are a net positive for public budgets because they contribute more to the system than they take out. Unauthorized immigrants generally cannot receive benefits from government programs, except in some cases, such as when unauthorized immigrant children receive public education, and in some states that allow unauthorized immigrants to attend state colleges at in-state tuition rates. Nevertheless, most of these unauthorized immigrants will still pay taxes. The vast majority pay sales taxes in states with sales taxes, and property taxes through properties that they own or rent. Additionally, most unauthorized immigrant workers also pay payroll and income taxes. The Social Security Administration estimates that 75 percent of unauthorized immigrants are actually on formal payrolls, either using fraudulent Social Security numbers or Social Security numbers of the deceased. Unauthorized immigrants pay into Social Security via automatic payroll deductions, but they can never claim Social Security benefits. In 2005, it was estimated that unauthorized immigrants paid about $7 billion per year in Social Security taxes that they will never be able to reclaim.

Unauthorized immigrants are also unlikely to receive any income credits available through the tax code, or to receive a tax refund if they overpaid in their regular payroll withholdings. The Tax Policy Center estimates that 78 percent of American households that earned less than $33,000 owed no federal income taxes in 2011.19 Many low-income taxpayers only paid marginal amounts if they did owe. Because of their low income levels, most unauthorized immigrants would likely fall into either of these categories. A significant portion of unauthorized immigrants file taxes using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs); however, many unauthorized immigrants don’t file because they fear deportation. If they don’t file, they are never refunded money that was automatically withheld from their paychecks.

The research also addressed another common belief: that unauthorized immigrants use (abuse?) public support programs like welfare, unemployment insurance, and food stamps. The data suggests otherwise.

While it is possible that an unauthorized immigrant could benefit from a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident family member receiving income support through a federal or state program, unauthorized immigrants themselves by and large are ineligible for such programs because of their immigration status.

In response to the repeated demands of our contemporary Nativists that we just deport the 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants, the report noted:

Aside from the astronomical costs it would impose and the fact that it’s likely to be a logistical impossibility, it would actually hurt, not help, the economy and the jobs situation…while unauthorized immigrant workers add to the supply of labor, they also consume goods and services, thereby generating economic activity and creating jobs. One way to think of this is to remember that the labor force is growing all the time due to both immigration and native-born population growth, and that’s okay, because the economy expands too. We all understand this intuitively; that’s why we don’t worry when a new graduate enters the labor force. We know those new graduates buy food and cars and clothes and pay rent. By the same token, unauthorized immigrants are not just workers, they are also consumers. We could remove them, which would indeed reduce the number of workers, but it would also reduce the jobs created by the economic activity they generate. So the right choice is to bring the unauthorized immigrants who are already here out of the shadows so they can help the country realize its economic potential.

Finally, the report also addressed the influx of unaccompanied children from Central America:

Tens of thousands of migrant children (or minors) from Mexico and Central America arrive at the Southwest border every year without a parent or guardian, but more recently, they have been arriving in increasing numbers from the Northern Triangle of Central America: El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras… some of the principal reasons for their arrival are violence and criminality in their home countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have some of the highest homicide rates in the world), including being forced to join criminal gangs under threat of violence or death; false rumors that children will receive some sort of legal status if they show up on the border and turn themselves in to immigration authorities; and the desire to reunite with family members living in the United States.

(What the dry language of a research report fails to note is that these are children–frightened, alone and desperate for safety, and that the vitriol with which they are being met is shameful, and should be a national embarrassment.)

Those of us who have a forlorn attachment to hard evidence and documented facts can continue to hope that eventually, reality will inform policy.


Blowin’ In the Wind

Copenhagen will become the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. That means that Copenhagen will offset any greenhouse gas emissions through measures such as tree plantings and renewable energy production.

According to Newsweek,

Though considerably less charming than it was in its medieval incarnation, the humble windmill is enjoying a 21st-century renaissance. Last year, wind power capacity increased on every ­continent, according to industry association Global Wind Energy Council. In 2011 Port Rock, Missouri, with a population of 1,300 people, became the first American town to be powered by urban wind turbines, and other smaller urban installations have followed. Now, developers and home owners from Hamburg to New York have started adding rooftop wind turbines.

There was a slogan back in the Sixties: “The Whole World is Watching.” It meant something quite different back then, but today it seems an appropriate slogan for the changes being made by cities like Copenhagen as they embrace, rather than resist, the inevitable.

Copenhagen’s Mayor is proud of his city’s move into the 21st Century, and he is equally proud of the budgetary savings that accompany that move.  Doing right by the environment, it turns out, also saves money. (Here in Indianapolis, IPL has belatedly recognized that connection and decided to stop using coal to power its Harding Street plant.)

As long as we’re recycling, let’s revisit (and revise the meaning of) not just “the whole world is watching” but also “blowin’ in the wind.”


Save the Date

I’ve written before about  Uncharted: The Truth Behind Homelessness.

The film focuses on how Indianapolis deals with its homeless population. It illuminates the issues that all major cities have to confront about their homeless citizens: downtown panhandling, homeless camps in the way of urban gentrification, underfunded human services, and endless debates over whether local government has an obligation to provide services to homeless people and if so, the nature of those services.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Indianapolis doesn’t do very well dealing with these issues–which may be why Mayor Ballard has thus far refused filmmakers’ invitations to view the documentary. That’s too bad; I have seen it twice, and I can attest to the fact that it is meticulously even-handed; interviews with a number of City representatives are included, and there are no “bad guys” hung out to dry.

Plus, it is a really gripping, well-done film.

The filmmakers, A Bigger Vision, have invited the community to attend one of two free screenings at the IMA on August 30th, at 1:00 pm and 4:00.

You can get tickets here.

You can see a trailer here.

The issues are anything but simple, and (despite the Mayor’s evident fears) their treatment is non-accusatory. Anyone concerned with the quality of life—let alone the quality of mercy– in Indianapolis should make an effort to attend one of the upcoming showings.







Presidents versus Monarchs

Over at his blog, presidential scholar Matthew Dickenson reminds us that U.S. Presidents are not monarchs–they aren’t even particularly powerful heads of state.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote an interesting column two days ago under the headline “It’s Virtually Impossible to be a Successful Modern President.” Cillizza begins his piece like this: “Being president is the most powerful job in the world. At which you will almost certainly fail.”

Both those statements are wrong, of course. As I and other presidency scholars have written repeatedly, the presidency is not a very powerful office and it is certainly not the most powerful job in the world. Indeed, even among elected chief executives in modern democracies, the presidency is one of the weaker offices. The primary reason, of course, is because the Framers wanted it that way, as indicated by their decision to embed the presidency within a constitutional system of shared powers. That’s why presidents cannot dismiss Congress, call for new elections, or even count on the support of a legislative majority to pass legislation – all expectations that many prime ministers in other nations possess. And, with the ratification of the 22nd amendment, presidents lucky enough to win reelection serve most of their second term as defacto lame ducks. As Brendan Nyhan notes in his column today, however, this weakness has not stopped individuals from exaggerating the president’s potential degree of control over events.

It always amuses me (in a black humor sort of way) when Americans criticize the President–any president–for failure to do X, Y or Z. He promised to do it, and he hasn’t, so he lied…or he’s weak, or he’s in someone’s pocket. Now on occasion, some or all of those things may be true, but more often that not, the person complaining displays a total lack of understanding of how our government works.

Or increasingly, doesn’t.

I Kid You Not….

Can you spell irony?

Per ThinkProgress:

Hours before Congress broke for the August recess, House Republicans claimed that the President could use executive action to fix the border situation with unaccompanied children fleeing violence in the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

In a press statement released Thursday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and other House Republican leaders indicated that President Obama could address the crisis “without the need for congressional action,” a statement tinged with some irony given that just the day before, House Republicans had slammed the President with a lawsuit claiming executive overreach.

“There are numerous steps the president can and should be taking right now, without the need for congressional action, to secure our borders and ensure these children are returned swiftly and safely to their countries.”

That sound you just heard was my jaw hitting the floor.

Self-awareness evidently isn’t one of the Speaker’s attributes.

As a post to Daily Kos put it, a bit more baldly, “I shit you not. Republicans in the House are encouraging the President to act on his own — for which lawless actions, of course, Republicans in the House earlier this week voted to sue him. You really can’t make this crap up.”