State’s immigration report is short-sighted

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Last Thursday, we had the opportunity to witness a press conference in which governor Pawlenty made public the findings of a new report called “The Impact of Illegal Immigration on Minnesota”. The report, produced by the Office of Strategic Planning & Results Management of the Minnesota Department of Administration, was produced by the governor’s request and presented by Commissioner Dana Badgerow.

Governor Pawlenty began his speech stating, “Many communities across Minnesota and the country have raised concerns regarding illegal immigration. We need to remember that we are a nation of immigrants and we should support immigration that is legal and orderly. Unfortunately the current system is neither and needs to be reformed”.

After that, the results of the report were presented and according to those results, “illegal immigrants” (which we prefer to call “undocumented immigrants”), cost the state an amount somewhere in between $175 and $188 millions a year. That was only the beginning and the report was already flawed. After a brief series of statements, most of them without factual support, the report states that the Office of Strategic Planning was able to identify three areas where “undocumented immigrants” are draining resources from the state. First, the report states as a fact that the children of those “undocumented immigrants” that are in the Public Schools System are costing the State from $146 to $158 millions each year (according to the 2003-2004 ADM, the cost per child was stated at $8,379). Secondly, the numbers on the report continue to add and state a figure of $17 million a year paid by the state during 2004 to cover some of the expenses created by “undocumented immigrants” in the Health System. Lastly, the report takes a brief jump and moves from Health Care expenses to Legal expenses and presents a figure of $13 million as the estimated cost of incarcerating, processing and deporting “Criminal Undocumented Immigrants”.

Adding to these numbers, the report clearly states “illegal immigrants arguably displace American workers, which contributes to lost jobs and wages” citing as the source of this statement a report published by El Paso Times on June 16, 2005, under the title “Migrant Work force; Demand for undocumented high”.

The figures are “alarming” as Commissioner Badgerow stated (Star Tribune, Dec. 9th, 2005). Yes, indeed, the figures are “alarming” and they lead us to a lot of thinking on “undocumented immigration” especially when we realize that the report doesn’t even mention the other side of the story, the benefits “undocumented workers” bring to the state’s economy. No “Economic Impact” research is complete when the figures represent only one side of the story. Governor Pawlenty and Commissioner Badgerow are well aware of this fact. Pretending that such a report is a complete picture of the “Impact” of “undocumented workers” in Minnesota is presenting a biased report to the public. It’s showing biased and incomplete information that only shows one side of the story and that is unacceptable, especially when such a report could be used as a source for making decisions and policy making.

The “impact” on “Illegal Immigration on Minnesota” can only be measured if we have figures from both sides and when asked about the reason why this report didn’t include such figures, Commissioner Badgerow candidly answered that Governor Pawlenty didn’t ask for it (Pioneer Pres, Dec. 9th, 2005). The innocence behind Commissioner Badgerow’s answer could bring a smile to our face, but the same article on the Pioneer Press (Dec. 9th, 2005), cites her statements about the issue as “Obviously, there is a school of thought that there is an economic advantage to having these folks in our workforce. We didn’t look at that side of it.”

We are very tempted to call this as “shortsighted”, coming from the State, but the words of Brian McClung, spokesman for the governor, tell us a different picture. McClung suggested that governor Pawlenty may be planning to introduce some legislation on this topic in the next legislative session. Knowing Governor Pawlenty’s record with immigrant communities makes us wonder if his office may be working on new anti-immigrant legislation. He was the one who based his gubernatorial campaign on the “Status Check” of Driver’s Licenses of foreign nationals who legally reside in the country (and won the election over the “National Security” issue). He was the one who sent a letter to both City Councils of Minneapolis and St. Paul, urging them to override their ordinances prohibiting Police Departments in both cities, to act as immigration officers. He threatened to veto a legislative piece called “Dream Act Minnesota” introduced in favor of outstanding “undocumented students” and now, after reading the report, we are very concerned about the misuse of such a biased report.

Timing was perfect, as usual. The report was made public one day before President Bush arrived to Minneapolis for a fundraiser in favor of Mark Kennedy (Kennedy is looking to obtain the seat Mark Dayton is leaving in the US Senate next year) and we know, according to sources who were present at the fundraiser, that the report was received with the greatest satisfaction of the Republican Party in the State and widely discussed during the reception. As we said, no research on such “impact” could be complete unless we have the whole picture in front of us and the State implies that this research is not necessary by ignoring it.

The Summary reads “The illegal immigration challenge includes: (1) a financial strain on state resources, and (2) societal impacts, such as crime and economic loss…” and provides no proof to support such statements. The report continues reading “there are approximately 8,000 illegal immigrants who file state income taxes –using an ITIN number- to replenish state resources. Illegal immigrants also pay taxes by employer withholdings. Because they do not file tax returns, these funds are kept by the state and federal government resulting in “stranded withholdings.”

Although some argue that the value of these withholdings is significant, the exact dollar amount attributable to illegal immigrants is unknown” and makes such a statement when there is a widely known research about the benefits of “Undocumented workers” to Minnesota, perfectly documented and sustained by the work of James J. Kielkopf, who developed a methodology to measure such “impact” back in September 2000 (a copy of Kielkopf’s report can be downloaded at this link http://www.hacer-mn.org/PDFs/Undocumented.pdf ). Kielkopf’s report presents us with a different reality. His report dares to estimate, to create a methodology to sustain his research and to interview both workers and employees.

He defined six economy areas where the “impact” could be measured and calculated some 48,000 “undocumented workers” work actively on those areas. He stated clearly that his figures are the result of the research on those six areas and are based on the interviews done with both workers and employers, defining a lower limit and a higher limit for his figures to obtain measurable numbers. According to Kielkopf, those 48,000 “undocumented workers” paid $311 million into Social Security and $345 million in State Taxes and Fees during 2000, a total estimate of $646 million for that year. The math behind the equation should tell us then that $646 is way more than $176 or $188 (and that is considering those $646 million in terms of 2000 dollars). According to the State’s figures, the estimated “undocumented workers” in Minnesota in 2004 was 80,000. So, a simple calculation will tell us that 80,000 “undocumented workers” should have paid $518 million to the Social Security, and $575 million to State Taxes and Fees. Adding those number we obtain $1,077 million for 2004 but in terms of 2000 money. If we consider a conservative 7% total inflation rate (not considering other factors), we obtain a final figure of $1,152 millions for 2004. Doing the math, $1,152-$188 = $964 million in favor of the State.

Kielkopf went beyond those simple figures and he estimated that the amount of business generated by those 48,000 workers reached, at his most conservative level, $1.02 billion in taxes and revenues. His conclusion was simple. According to his findings, losing the business activity generated by “undocumented workers” could easily become a 40 percent loss in economic growth on the State. His findings showed that the business generated by “undocumented workers” was 2.4 percent of the State’s GDP and that 50,000 Minnesotan workers owe their job to the economic activity generated by those 48,000 “undocumented workers”.

The State failed to tell us the whole truth. The report presented by Commissioner Dana Badgerow is largely incomplete. On one hand, we find a biased report by the State and on the other hand we find a very complete report that portrays a different picture. The use of the State’s report as a reference to generate legislature is wrong, because it fails to show us the whole picture and that’s unacceptable. Unacceptable for an Office of Strategic Planning, which is supposed to give the governor’s office accurate information for decision and policies making and unacceptable for a governor’s office, which is supposed to generate policies after analyzing the whole picture.

We need a full report. A report that depicts both sides of the story. A report that can tell us the benefits of having “undocumented workers” in our workforce and the burden to the State of those same workers. That’s what we, as citizens, expect from our leaders. That’s what we, as citizens, expect from our governor and that’s exactly what we didn’t see last Thursday.

The report presented by the State could have set the wheels in motion for a xenophobic movement, rapidly growing in Minnesota, a movement of anti-immigrants that could leads us to go back in time to the darkest ages of our history, to an economic failure and to unknown waters.

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