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Shuler’s $40 Billion Fumble

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Cost of Immigration Bill Spurs Rookie Congressman to Play Fast & Loose with the Facts

This week, U.S. Representative Heath Shuler (D-NC) continued to fumble the facts on immigration the way he used to fumble the ball. In the latest of a series of political miscalculations on the immigration issue, Shuler is playing fast and loose with the facts. While trying to defend the $40 billion price tag of the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement (SAVE) Act, Shuler’s office misrepresented a University of North Carolina report on the cost of immigrants to the North Carolina economy. His claims that immigrants “cost” North Carolina nearly $1 billion fails to note the report’s key finding, that the taxes immigrants pay combined with the economic growth they generate contributes $9 billion annually to the state, far outweighing the “cost.”

“Obviously we’ve seen this kind of thing from politicians before, especially with respect to the distortion of immigration studies. But this was one of the most egregious instances of cherry-picking I’ve come across in some time. Someone should throw the yellow flag,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice. He added, “What’s more amazing is that Congressman Shuler expects his Blue Dog counterparts to take a hit to their fiscally conservative reputation, and support an astronomically expensive bill that will make our broken immigration system even worse. Want to get behind a play that will cost taxpayers $40 billion without solving a serious public policy challenge? No problem, Heath Shuler’s your man.”

Fumble #1: Teaming Up with Tancredo

The first fumble came when Rep. Shuler teamed up with the likes of U.S. Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and U.S. Representative Brian Bilbray (R-CA), two rabid anti-immigrant legislators, to introduce a terrible bill that would make a mess out of immigration policy while hurting millions of American workers in the process. Joining Rep. Shuler on Lou Dobbs Tonight to tout the bill and celebrate their “bipartisan” efforts to paint Democrats as soft on illegal immigration, Rep. Bilbray said: “We’ve tagged this ‘Operation Offensive Line’ in honor of our quarterback here that we’re blocking for. It’s a great start.” [CNN, Lou Dobbs Tonight, March 8, 2006]

Fumble #2: Betraying House Democratic Leadership

Next, Shuler betrayed the House Democratic leadership by again teaming up with Republicans to sign a discharge petition that would force the bill to a vote on the House floor if it gathers 218 signatures. This strategy was put forward by House Republicans seeking to line up immigration as a wedge issue for the 2008 elections. “House Republicans are trying to force action on a Democratic-written immigration enforcement measure, the latest GOP attempt to elevate the volatile issue into an election-year wedge… ‘I think it makes it harder for the majority to do nothing,’ Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla, said [in March]. ‘On a district-by-district basis, there will be places where this is an important issue.'” [“GOP Moves to Force Immigration Vote,” Associated Press, March 11, 2008]

Fumble #3: The Real Cost of Shuler’s Bill, Asking Blue Dogs to Swallow a $40 Billion Price Tag

This week, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported on the actual costs of implementing Shuler’s Secure America through Verification and Enforcement Act (SAVE Act). In a major blow to the bill, the CBO estimated that the Shuler-Tancredo bill would cost American taxpayers $40 billion over the next ten years. Such a heavy price tag casts serious doubt on Rep. Shuler’s fiscally conservative “Blue Dog” credentials, and will do little to advance his goal of gathering the signatures needed to force the bill to the House floor. As one Democratic Leadership aide said of Shuler’s drive to force the hands of fellow Democrats, “This report doesn’t help you get there.” [“Cost of immigration enforcement bill could deter Blue Dog support,” The Hill, 4/7/08]

Fumble #4: Fuzzy Math

Stung by the CBO report, Rep. Shuler’s spokesperson was quoted in The Hill [4/7/08] attempting to justify the $40 billion price tag by citing the costs of illegal immigration, claiming that “North Carolina’s costs for healthcare, education and incarceration related to illegal immigrants is around $1 billion annually.” Shuler’s office is referencing a report by the Kenan Institute of the University of North Carolina, HYPERLINK “http://www.kenan-flagler.unc.edu/assets/documents/2006_KenanInstitute_HispanicStudy.pdf” The Economic Impact of the Hispanic Population on the State of North Carolina. This report documents the fact that new immigrants to North Carolina – almost all of whom are Hispanic and many of whom are here illegally – cost the state $817 million a year. It also found that the same immigrants paid $756 million in taxes, leading to a net cost of $61 million. Finally, the report concluded, “It is important that this estimated $61 million net cost to the state budget be seen in the context of the aggregate benefits Hispanics bring to the state’s economy. Along with directly and indirectly generating over $9 billion annually in North Carolina business revenues, Hispanic workers contribute immensely to the economic output of the state and to the cost-competitiveness of a number of key industries” (p. 35).