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Sen. Jeff Flake Denounces Heritage Foundation Study on Economics of Immigration Reform

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During the 2006-2007 immigration reform debates, the Heritage Foundation and its senior research fellow, Robert Rector, famously released a report claiming that the legislation being considered would cost the US economy $2.6 trillion.  The study then helped sink immigration reform, and the Heritage Foundation this month tried to reprise that strategy by releasing a similar report that earned much less attention.  In fact, this year’s analysis, produced by former Sen. Jim DeMint, has been widely discredited by conservatives for its flawed methodology.

At this morning’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) spent his opening statement criticizing the report, and discussing its flaws with American Action Forum economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin.

Holtz-Eakin explained the Heritage study has several fundamental issues, including how it omits a before-and-after scenario of immigration passage and falsely assumes that immigrants draw more from social programs than the native-born. “It is not the case that program participation is higher than in the native-born population on the whole,” he said.

Here’s the rest of their exchange, courtesy of Think Progress:

FLAKE: Heritage Foundation came up with a study with a headline that this would cost the taxpayers $2.6 trillion over some time. That study has now been discounted by quite a number of organizations the Wall Street Journal, the Cato Institute and others. I know you have looked at that. What are your feelings on a study like that that purports these kinds of costs to the taxpayers?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I will resist temptation to turn this into a graduate seminar, but I think the top line is I have reservations on the study […] it leaves out things that I think our most important, the dynamic effects in my testimony and the study I did. Heritage has the capability of doing that analysis, and I would hope they would bring something like that out if the opportunity arose. The second thing I worry about in that study is the basic design does not shed light on immigration reform. There is nothing about that study that says what happens as a result of passing legislation, so it does not inform decisions that Congress might face, and I would like to see studies designed before and after reform.

The last, and I will not the belabor it, the comparisons and that study are between very low-skill immigrants and all of Americans, including by implication Bill Gates, myself, you, whoever. I think that’s not a very meaningful comparison. And you can anticipate they outcome of that comparison without doing any kind of detailed analysis. You know the answer by the way the study’s constructed.