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November 12, 2019

3/2/2016 4:52:00 PM
Immigration numbers in Wisconsin
Groups debate costs versus productivity of illegal population

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter

Wisconsin isn't often thought of as a primary destination for illegal immigrants, but it has its share of that population, according to numbers from the Pew Hispanic Center, and it has sparked a fierce statistical debate about the costs and benefits associated with that immigration.

As of 2012, the latest year for which Pew reports, about 85,000 illegal immigrants, whom officials refer to instead as 'unauthorized,' reside in the Badger state. Pew says the number has not grown significantly since 2009.

Translated into a share of the total population, illegal immigrants comprise about 1.5 percent of the state's population.

Of course, there are legal immigrants, too, and they have a substantial impact on Wisconsin's economy as well.

According to the American Immigration Council, immigrants comprised 4.8 percent of the state's population in 2013, and more than 40 percent of them are naturalized U.S. citizens. These "New Americans," as the council calls them, account for 3.5 percent of registered voters in the state.

The council says the immigrant population not only is integral to the state's economy as a work force but also accounts for tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues and consumer purchasing power.

"Moreover, Latinos and Asians (both foreign-born and native-born) wield $12.5 billion in consumer purchasing power, and the businesses they own had sales and receipts of $4.7 billion and employed more than 26,500 people at last count," the council asserts.

As the economy continues to recover, Wisconsin can ill-afford to alienate such an important component of its labor force, tax base, and business community, the council argues.

But the pro-immigration advocacy group also says illegal immigrants add to Wisconsin's prosperity.

For example, the council estimates, illegal immigrants in Wisconsin paid $98.7 million in state and local taxes in 2010, citing the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, including $66.9 million in sales taxes, $22.9 million in state income taxes, and $8.9 million in property taxes.

If illegal immigrants gained legal status, the council asserts, they would pay $131.3 million in state and local taxes, including $69.9 million in sales taxes, $52.2 million in state income taxes, and $9.1 million in property taxes.

In addition, if those immigrants were removed from the state, Wisconsin would lose $2.6 billion in economic activity, $1.2 billion in gross state product, and approximately 14,579 jobs, the council states, citing a study by the Perryman Group, a Texas-based financial analysis firm.

But at what cost?

Leaving aside the job and economic activity argument - others say illegal immigrants take jobs from citizens and simply redistribute economic activity from legal citizens - critics say the amount of revenue generated from illegal immigrants must be balanced by the costs to serve them.

Specifically, while illegal immigrants might pay more than $130 million in taxes if all had legal status, some say the burden to taxpayers is substantially larger. Indeed, according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, illegal immigrants drain the treasury of about $697 million a year.

That includes $289 million in K-12 education costs, $68 million in criminal justice costs, $79 million in welfare costs, and another $62 million in SCHIP and Medicaid costs. Limited English proficiency education is estimated to add another $58 million in costs, FAIR states.

"Data are not available nationally on immigrant students (either legally or illegally resident in the United States) who are enrolled in primary and secondary schools (K-12)," Fair states on its website. "However, a large majority of these students enrolled in Limited English Proficiency/English Language Learning instruction programs may be assumed to be children of either legal or illegal immigrants with a predominance of children of illegal aliens."

In Wisconsin, LEP public school enrollment in 2010 (51,837) was 190.7 percent of LEP enrollment a decade earlier, the group reports.

"By contrast, overall K-12 enrollment in the state was 99.4 percent of enrollment a decade earlier," the group observes.

What's more, the group states, Wisconsin's immigrants are more likely to be poorer than their native-born counterparts, and that drives up welfare costs.

"In 2007, 16.5 percent of foreign-born households were below the poverty line, compared to 10.5 percent of native households," the group states. "An additional 14.1 percent of the foreign-born and 7.4 percent of native households were not in poverty but had incomes less than 1.5 times the poverty level. 26.7 percent of children in immigrant families were poor in 2006, compared to 12.1 percent of native children."

The group says it's not just fiscal costs that need to be considered. For example, the group states, an estimated 33,430 of Wisconsin's housing units were classified as crowded in 2008, or about 1.5 percent of the state's housing units. In addition, 6,980 units were severely crowded, with at least 1.5 occupants per room.

"Nationwide, children in immigrant families were three times as likely to live in crowded conditions as children in native families (27 percent to 9 percent)," the group states on its website. "In the state, 19 percent of children in immigrant families live in crowded housing, compared to just 7 percent of children with native-born parents."

FAIR also believes the Pew Center lowballs the Wisconsin illegal population. It estimates that population as of 2010 to have been about 95,000 persons, compared to Pew's estimate of 85,000. In the U.S. overall, Pew estimates that illegal immigrants account for one in every 20 people in the labor force, or 8.1 million people in 2012.

While debate rages about the economic and social impact of illegal immigrants in Wisconsin, no one doubts the values of the state's foreign students, however, who are here legally.

Wisconsin's 11,718 foreign students contributed $308.6 million to the state's economy in tuition, fees, and living expenses for the 2013-14 academic year, according to the National Association of International Educators.

Perhaps more important, the Partnership for a New American Economy says foreign students contribute to innovation in Wisconsin. In 2009, for example, "non-resident aliens" comprised 29.2 percent of masters degrees and 39.1 percent of doctorate degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, March 4, 2016
Article comment by: Robin Young

Richard Moore knows that people, AKA human beings, cannot be illegal by the definition of the word. He chooses to dehumanize undocumented immigrants by referring to them as 'illegal'.

Either that or Richard Moore, a guy who may or may not have an English degree, is a total buffoon who shouldn't be writing for a living.

Which is it, Mr. Moore? Are you a writer or a stooge who pretends to be a writer? I say the odds are even money at best.

Posted: Friday, March 4, 2016
Article comment by: JOHN MCCONNELL

Many of the illegals work in the dairy industry. A year or so ago, a series in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had a quote from the head of the largest association of dairy farmers in the state, where he said without them, the dairy industry would collapse. Frankly, the average American today is in such lousy physical condition, they cannot do the hard physical work dairy farming entails.
The owner of a large (2,000+ cow) herd in Fond du Lac county told me he could not recruit enough locals for his farm, despite offering better wages and benefits that many low skill jobs. He was paying $3/hr more than minimum wage to start, plus health benefits and paid vacation. Folks just won't/can't do the work.

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