Heritage Foundation report on immigration drives wedge between conservatives

Conservative heavy-hitters like Rep. Paul Ryan and the Cato Institute have criticized the think tank's findings

By Katie McDonough

Published May 6, 2013 8:15PM (EDT)

  (AP/Madalyn Ruggiero)
(AP/Madalyn Ruggiero)

A new study from conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation estimates (incorrectly) that immigration reform will cost the economy $6.3 trillion over 50 years as “a minimum estimate.” The findings have been widely criticized by pro-reform Democrats and immigrant rights advocates, but there has also been a surprising amount of blowback among conservatives.

In a statement on Monday, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., cast doubt on Heritage's findings, saying: “The Congressional Budget Office has found that fixing our broken immigration system could help our economy grow. A proper accounting of immigration reform should take into account these dynamic effects.”

Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform released a statement on Monday also denouncing the findings (while maintaining its support for the think tank in general): "The Heritage Foundation is a treasured ally in the conservative movement and a pillar of the conservative policy community," said immigration policy aide Joshua Culling. "However, this study is every bit as flawed as its 2007 iteration."

The conservative Cato Institute was also dubious of Heritage's methodology, explaining:

The key flaw in Heritage’s 2007 study is its use of static fiscal scoring, rather than dynamic fiscal scoring, to evaluate that year’s immigration reform bill. “Scoring” a bill means predicting its impact on the U.S. budget in the future by estimating how it will affect future spending and tax revenue. A statically scored prediction assumes the bill will not affect the rest of the economy – which is highly unrealistic.

A dynamically scored prediction, on the other hand, assumes that the bill will affect the rest of the economy, also changing tax revenue and government spending. Since increased immigration will increase the size of the economy, it will also increase tax revenue and some government spending. It’s important to factor those increases into any scoring model. Heritage’s 2007 study did not.

Heritage economist Robert Rector defended the report at a press conference on Monday, but admitted the organization's current findings are limited: “It is not an analysis of the entire immigration reform bill, which is something I hope to do in the future,” Rector said. “But this report focuses primarily on amnesty.”

Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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Heritage Foundation Immigration Paul Ryan