Citizenship path for illegal immigrants to cost taxpayers more than $500 billion

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Offering a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants and opening the doors to more legal immigrants will cost the federal government more than $500 billion over the next few decades, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.

The costs would come chiefly to Social Security, Medicare and other social safety net programs that the new, and newly legalized, immigrants would be able to access, the budget analysts said.

The nonpartisan budget agency analyzed House Democrats’ plan to update the window of eligibility for illegal immigrants to adjust their status to legal immigrants, and to expand availability of green cards, or legal immigrant visas, to more foreign citizens.

The total cost of the immigration provisions over the next decade comes to about $140 billion, offset by about $19 billion in new revenue. The two decades after that would be even more expensive for the federal government, costing more than $563 billion in new spending and sapping about $2 billion from revenue.

The analysis looked at the costs to the federal government, but did not analyze the impact on the broader U.S. economy.

Those who support legalization and expanding future paths for more legal immigration argue that the real benefits come with a larger economy and more taxpayers expanding the government’s revenue base. Previous CBO research has indeed confirmed that more workers means a larger GDP, though CBO analysts also say per capita GDP would be lower, because the larger economy is spread over more people.

Democrats are trying to shoehorn legalization into President Biden’s $1.75 trillion social spending budget package, which deals with climate change, tax credits and prescription drug pricing.

The House Democrats’ expansive plans envision legal status for illegal immigrant “Dreamers” and others here under special humanitarian protections, as well as “essential” workers. Previous estimates suggest that could cover as many as 8 million people, though the CBO did not release its own figure.

The House proposal is unlikely to survive Senate budget rules on what can be included in special “reconciliation” bills that do not need to overcome a minority filibuster.

Instead, senators are pondering a more limited legalization that would grant a short-term deportation amnesty to illegal immigrants. That would allow them to obtain work permits, but does not include a clear pathway to citizenship.

That plan has not yet been publicly analyzed by the CBO.

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