What will 11 million new citizens mean?
The United States is on the threshold of comprehensive immigration reform. Between the president and the coalition in the Senate, it looks likely it will pass, which means that within a few years we shall have 11 million new Americans with full voting rights. What will their emergence from the shadows do to our economy? And, perhaps more importantly, what will it do to our politics? Who stands to gain from this enormous influx of new blood into our democratic system?
The numbers who are here illegally have gone down since John McCain last tried to introduce reform measures in 2007. As the economy slumped after the financial crisis of 2008–09, migrant workers stayed at home and undocumented workers who could not find work began to repatriate themselves. Record numbers were also deported. Today, according to the 2010 census, 11.1 million illegals are in our midst. Assuming that Congress, led by a bipartisan coalition in the Senate, responds to the president’s appeal to seize the moment, in the next few years we will welcome them as full citizens. That means 11.1 million more people to be taxed and buy health insurance, and 11.1 million more able to vote.
Contrary to the common perception, a majority of illegal immigrants both pay taxes and make Social Security payments. The term “undocumented workers” is a misnomer. To get a job legally they need papers, which entails assuming identities to get official papers or obtaining forged documents. Either way, they are not the out-and-out shirkers opponents of immigration make them out to be. According to the most recent figures of the Congressional Budget Office, compared to the commonplace tax-dodging techniques employed by documented Americans, the majority of illegals are already model citizens.
As we are dealing with a black economy, accurate statistics are hard to come by. But those we have are full of surprises. And they vary from state to state. Colorado, for instance, estimates that in 2006 “unauthorized immigrants” paid between $159 million and $194 million in taxes, while the state paid out $217 million to $225 million for the “education, Medicaid, and corrections” costs they accrued. Illegals in Iowa in 2004 paid between $45.5 million and $70 million in taxes and benefited to the tune of $107.4 million. New Mexico raised $69 million from illegals, between $1 million and $2 million more than it spent on educating their children. The state of Texas claims to have made a profit of $424 million on illegals, though local governments picked up an enormous bill, not least for patrolling the Mexico border.
Through programs like George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, the federal government picks up about 90 percent of the tab for the difference between what illegals pay in taxes and the public services they consume. With every new American paying their full share, the costs to local, state and federal government departments will fall. There will be new net tax revenue to pay for existing public spending, which means a net benefit to local taxpayers and the national economy. The Affordable Care Act mandating every citizen to buy health insurance will save on Medicaid costs and other federal aid to illegals as well as health care for illegals’American children. There should also be a sharp reduction in law enforcement costs related to tracking down, prosecuting, and deporting illegals. The combined savings to the public purse means that all fiscal conservatives should unequivocally back comprehensive immigration reform.
How will the assimilation of 11.1 million new Americans affect the political map? That, too, will vary from state to state. While every state in the Union has illegals, California has the most (2.6 million), followed by Texas (1.68 million), Florida (720,000), New York (550,000) and Illinois (540,000). The border state of Arizona has 460,000 and Nevada 260,000. How they will vote depends on a number of factors, most importantly where they come from (6.65 million are from Mexico, 530,000 from El Salvador, 480,000 from Guatemala, 320,000 from Honduras). The new Americans are overwhelmingly Hispanic, and if they vote like Hispanics did in 2012 — 71 percent to Obama, 27 percent to Romney — Democrats will hugely benefit.
Although some of the 11.1 million are currently under 18 and ineligible to vote, they may be able to vote by the time of the next general election or the one after. The Hispanic population as a proportion of the total U.S. electorate is currently 16.7 percent and has increased by 43 percent per year since 2000, an average of 16 percent per presidential term.
In California, already predominantly Democratic in national elections, the new Americans will boost an already large Democratic majority. Last year, in a registered electorate of 18.2 million, Obama trounced Romney by 3 million. Even if every last new American votes Republican, it won’t tip the balance. The same is true in Nevada, with an electorate of little over a million, which comfortably elected Obama by a margin of nearly 50,000 votes. But 260,000 new Americans voting 7:3 in the Democrats’ favor would likely cause the GOP to lose Dean Heller’s Senate seat as he won it by just 12,000 votes.
In Arizona, with a total voting population of just 2.3 million, the involvement of 460,000 new Hispanic voters, 332,000 of them tending to the Democrats if they split 7:3, could upset the state’s proclivity to vote Republican in every presidential contest since 1952 (except 1996, when Ross Perot split the Republican vote, giving Bill Clinton the state). In 2012 in Arizona there were only 200,000 votes between Romney (1.2 million) and Obama (1 million). In the senatorial race, Republican Jeff Flake squeaked past the Democrat, Richard Carmona, by less than 100,000 votes. Immigration reform puts Flake’s Arizona’s Senate seat in deep jeopardy. Little wonder Flake is taking a prominent part in the Senate initiative.
In Texas, Obama won almost 2 million and Romney nearly 3 million votes out of a state-wide total of 5 million. If Texas’ 1.68 million new Americans were to divide 7:3 in favor of the Democratic candidate, the 1.18 million new Democratic votes would be enough to change the state from red to blue, taking with it the current tally of 38 winner-takes-all electoral college votes. An additional 1.7 million Americans would, of course, argue for a significant increase in the size of the electoral college. The senator for Texas, Ted Cruz, won in 2012 with a nearly million-vote majority over his Democratic rival, and the almost 1.2 million new Democratic voters would ensure a tight senatorial contest. When it comes to Texas House seats, the skillful drawing of county boundaries by the GOP is enough to ensure Republican victories, at least in the short run. As time goes on, however, as the former illegals become more confident and move away from the neighbors who have sheltered them, the new Americans could upset even the best-gerrymandered county contests.
Another big electoral prize is Florida with its 29 winner-takes-all electoral college votes. The state is evenly divided politically and in 2000 etched itself a place in history for its pivotal part in awarding the White House, after a dramatic U.S. Supreme Court battle, to George W. Bush. Last year Obama won in Florida by a whisker, a majority of just 74,000 in a turnout of 8.5 million. How the 720,000 new Americans in Florida vote in the future may decide who is president for years to come. That most of those new Americans are Hispanic gives an Hispanic presidential candidate, particularly one from Florida, an enormous advantage in the contest for the White House. Which is, perhaps, why Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida is currently playing such a prominent part in championing immigration reform.
But Florida is different from Texas and the other states with a burgeoning Hispanic population. Florida’s Hispanics, who make up 17 percent of voters and mostly hail from Cuba, have different attitudes from Hispanic-Americans in general who mostly come from Mexico. Hispanic immigrants are economic migrants who come to America looking for jobs. Cuban-Americans, however, escaped the tyranny of the Castro brothers’ communist regime that until recently tried to outlaw the free market. Cuban-Americans tend to look more favorably upon Republican free-market ideas and are often skeptical of Democratic policies that stress the importance of a strong government role in improving society. Whereas last November, Obama attracted the votes of non-Cuban Hispanics in Florida by 68 percent to 32 pecent, among Cuban-Americans the figure was just 60 points to 39.
Rubio, a Cuban-American, knows his ethnic base well. His grandfather was an illegal immigrant from Cuba and his parents were Cuban immigrants. Although in the Senate barely two years, he is leading the Republican efforts there to reform immigration and bring the 720,000 new American Floridians into the GOP fold. Although his proposals are reasonable and fair, the president has outflanked him. Rubio insists there be a “trigger” that only sets illegals on a road to citizenship when border security is tightened. There is further opposition from John McCain for those in a gay-marriage to enjoy the same rights as all other illegals applying for citizenship.
They should tread carefully. The Republicans already face electoral defeat without end by alienating the large and growing Hispanic community because of their resistance to immigration reform. Republican backing this time is the first step on a long road of rehabilitation for a party that generally reflects the intolerant views about minorities of the uneducated white males that form its base. It is going to take many years before Hispanics abandon their allegiance to the Democrats who for years have taken their side over not only immigration but rights for women and low-paid workers. Rubio may imagine that Florida is different, which it is. But if he or any other Republicans stand in the way of a swift resolution of America’s festering illegal immigration problem, they will pay a high price at the ballot box for years to come.
Nicholas Wapshott’s Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics is published by W.W. Norton. Read extracts here.