Sid Salter: Fact, fiction of immigration reform remains problematic 7/19/2013

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 18, 2013

Fact, fiction of immigration reform remains problematic

For more centrist Republicans, the 2012 election cycle was enough to jumpstart a new discussion of compromise from hard right-wing dogma on immigration reform both at the national and state level.

Yet what was a promising start for the 2013 version of immigration reform had by this month ground down to another stalemate. Republicans on Capitol Hill are still too worried about getting out of their congressional primary races to serious debate immigration reform even if it costs the GOP in presidential elections to come.

The message in 2012 was clear – Hispanic voters now total about 9 percent of the national electorate. In presidential politics and in the politics of control of the Congress, Latino voters are now strong enough to assist their friends and hurt their enemies.

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Former President George W. Bush caved on immigration reform despite having family ties to America’s Hispanic community. President Barack Obama made exorbitant political promises to deliver immigration reform, but caved on them in a slightly different direction.

Both presidents failed to move the needle on immigration reform despite having bipartisan support for some form of immigration reform. Despite that fact, Obama got a whopping 71 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012 to GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s anemic 29 percent.

That development came despite the fact that Obama deported more immigrant than did Bush.
Congress, as it has for decades, has talked in circles around immigration reform until the numbers of illegal or undocumented immigrants grew to the level that mass deportation is neither fiscally feasible nor politically plausible and that the nation’s economy has become inexorably intertwined with immigrant labor.

Not only have immigrants workers filled the void on low wage, low skill jobs that Americans in other demographics have not pursued, they have done so with a sterling work ethic and a performance that has given them upward mobility in the workplace.

That’s reflected in a recent Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy study that suggests that state and local governments could collect an extra $2 billion annually from immigrants if Congress was successful in a national immigration policy overhaul. ITEP is a liberal think tank and their study didn’t address the obvious increased costs for state and local governments that such reforms would produce, principally increased public health care, educational costs and other entitlements.

But what the study does establish is that even immigrants in the country illegally under false documentation pay a number of various taxes, principally sales taxes. Some illegals even pay property and income taxes, the study notes. Congressional Budget Office estimates say immigration reform could produce a $135 billion deficit reduction over the next decade.

In Mississippi, the ITEP estimate is that immigration reform would produce an additional $12 million in annual tax revenue on top of the estimated $48 million in annual taxes already collected by state and local government here from immigrant taxpayers.

But in Mississippi, as apparently in much of the U.S. House districts around the country, immigration reform is still a political hostage as Republicans fear conservative reprisals in GOP primaries if they support any immigration reform measure than contains a so-called “path to citizenship” for the estimated 12 to 15 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

Yet it’s also obvious that Republicans all over the country are toning down their illegal immigrant rhetoric.  Fortunately, illegal immigration is just simply from a numerical standpoint a top-drawer problem in Mississippi. There’s also been a decline in the amount of state legislation offered on the topic after a flurry of bills was introduced in the last five years.

(Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or