FAIR and "Fuzzy Math"

In January 2007, South Carolina politician Bobby Harrell sent out a news release alleging that undocumented immigrants cost the state “$186 million a year,” a figure taken from the website of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization that seeks to restrict new immigration. When the Myrtle Beach Sun News contacted FAIR about the calculation of this number, the anti-immigrant organization admitted to fudging the numbers:
For the population figure, FAIR used census figures for the foreign-born population and subtracted the number of people known to have emigrated to South Carolina legally, said FAIR special projects director Jack Martin. This method is similar to that used by the Pew Hispanic Center, a research center that does not advocate any policy positions.

Unlike the data-based method for population, the public-services cost was more of a "back-of-the-envelope-type computation," Martin said. FAIR analysts used population estimates and multiplied them by general cost-per-pupil, cost-per-inmate and cost-per-patient figures derived from more detailed research in other states.

The cost estimate did not include specifics such as the amount spent on English-language teachers, Martin said. Nor did it account for taxes paid into the system by illegal immigrants, which help to offset those costs.1
When the Sun News did their research, they found that leading economists agreed that undocumented workers “prop up the state economy and contribute almost as much to the state budget as they take out.”2
Doug Woodward of the University of South Carolina's Moore School of Business, author of the only economic studies on immigration in South Carolina, said he has yet to study illegal immigration's fiscal impact on state government. But even illegal immigrants, he said, pay taxes:

They pay the sales tax on almost everything they buy, but spend slightly less of their wages on goods with sales taxes than other workers. That is because most of them send 15 or 20 percent of their income home, Woodward said. In the short term, this is very similar to putting the same amount in a savings account - it removes it from the economy.

Nearly everyone - including illegal immigrants - pays property taxes, either directly on owned property or indirectly through the rent paid to landlords. The amount may be slightly smaller than that of other South Carolinians because surveys have shown illegal immigrants live in slightly higher densities with lower taxes.

Finally, many illegal immigrants pay income taxes. Any who use faked documentation with Social Security numbers or Tax ID numbers have income taxes withheld, Woodward said.3
The Sun News also noted that FAIR had been designated a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a leading civil rights firm that “historically fought the Ku Klux Klan in court.”4  SPLC found that FAIR has “ties to known racists and a long track record of bigotry.”
Key staff members have ties to white supremacist groups, some are members, and some have spoken at hate group functions. FAIR has accepted more than $1 million from a racist foundation devoted to studies of race and IQ, and to eugenics — the pseudo-science of breeding a better human race that was utterly discredited by the Nazi euthanasia program. It spreads racist conspiracy theories. Its political ads have caused numerous politicians, Democratic and Republican, to denounce it.5
1. Robert Morris. "Illegal workers bolster tax rolls." Myrtle Beach: The Sun News, March 24, 2008
2. Id.
3. Id.
4. "New SPLC Report: Nation's Most Prominent Anti-Immigration Group has History of Hate, Extremism." Southern Poverty Law Center, December 11, 2007
5. Mark Potok. "FAIR: Crossing the Rubicon of Hate." Hatewatch, December 11, 2007

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund