Lowballing the Economic and Public Safety Costs of a 'Dreamers' Amnesty

By Dan Cadman on December 29, 2017

As President Trump's March deadline approaches for Congress to act on an amnesty for beneficiaries of the Obama administration's dubious Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, media have reported various meetings among and between the White House and members of Congress to put together some kind of deal.

But will the legislation include any legitimate immigration enforcement in exchange for such an amnesty? There's plenty of reason to doubt that it will. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), for instance, is still touting the abysmal "DREAM Act".

And shortly before that, his co-sponsor on that bill, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) allegedly met with the president to tout the bill as well. Graham was quoted in the Wall Street Journal as saying, "I'm highly confident we'll get it resolved because the politics of not dealing with these kids in a fair fashion would be devastating. It would destroy our ability, particularly with the Hispanic community, to grow."

The DREAM Act, readers may recall, is the one that raised eyebrows when, on December 15, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), in conjunction with the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT), released its analysis of what it would cost U.S. taxpayers. And what a budget-busting stunner the analysis was, too, as others here at the Center have already discussed (see here and here).

According to the CBO analysis:

CBO and JCT estimate that changes in direct spending and revenues from enacting S. 1615 [the Senate's bill number for the DREAM Act] would increase budget deficits by $25.9 billion over the 2018-2027 period, boosting on-budget deficits by $30.6 billion and decreasing off-budget deficits by $4.7 billion over that period.

There are four primary sponsors for the DREAM Act, including Democrats Durban and Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) and Republicans Graham and Jeff Flake (Ariz.). All four sponsors are part of the "Gang of Eight" that introduced the overweening and intellectually dishonest amnesty legislation into the Senate in 2013 only to see it go down in flames in the House.

The projected deficit the legislation would create is huge, and poses serious questions about both Flake's and Graham's claims to being fiscal conservatives, as my colleague Art Arthur has already noted. This is from Graham's official website:

Graham is also a leader in cutting spending, reforming entitlements, and getting government out of the way so businesses can create jobs. One national conservative organization called him a Taxpayer Hero who puts "the interests of the taxpayer ahead of politics by consistently voting to cut wasteful spending, reduce the tax burden, and make government more accountable to taxpayers." [Emphasis added.]

How, I wonder, does Sen. Graham square the circle here?

Most significantly: Is it possible that the CBO and JCT have underestimated the true costs to the taxpayer? I think it's entirely possible, even likely, as my colleague Jason Richwine has suggested.

I believe this based on an examination of the underlying assumptions made in arriving at the figures, and comparing those assumptions with past history and the very language embedded in the draft bill.

Specifically, the cost analysis of the bill is built around a series of funnel-like assumptions that don't seem to hold water when examined critically:

  • Of the 3.25 million pool of illegal aliens eligible for conditional resident status, only two million would apply or be approved;
  • Of the two million, "conditional" status would be removed and full resident status granted for only 1.6 million; and
  • Of the 1.6 million, only one million would become naturalized U.S. citizens between 2018 and 2027.

History belies those figures. For instance, 2.7 million illegal aliens benefited from the amnesty embedded in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), significantly more than high-side estimates generated at the time. And the costs (including "unfunded mandates") of that amnesty to federal, state, and local governments were extremely high in the years following the legalization of this population.

But it isn't just history at work here. The very language of the DREAM Act assures that virtually every eligible illegal alien who applies (and many who aren't in fact eligible) will receive the benefit. There is a poorly thought-out "confidentiality" provision in the bill that would preclude sharing any information from amnesty files with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. Such provisions are inevitably invitations to fraud on a massive scale. This is, or at least should be, another of the lessons of the IRCA amnesty, but apparently some of our legislators are deaf to history's shouts.

The theory behind confidentiality is that it mitigates illegal aliens' fears that applying will result in their arrest. But in fact it guarantees that no matter how shaky or bogus the information or supporting documents they submit, they will suffer no repercussions.The agency that receives the applications, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is a benefits-granting agency. USCIS is not in the business of law enforcement, has few mechanisms for ferreting out the falsehoods, and its adjudicators are not trained in the conduct of investigations. It is ICE that conducts fraud investigations when an applicant is suspected of lying or tendering fraudulent documents, but that's the very agency which would be barred from receiving potentially fraudulent information from the applications. So who, exactly, will be there to police the program to ensure that it is conducted with integrity? No one.

This leads to another weak point in the bill: The legislation specifies a whole host of documents that it requires USCIS adjudicators to accept as prima facie evidence of eligibility for the program. They are exactly the kinds of documents that are manufactured on the cheap by backstreet fraudsters. Here is a partial laundry list of some of the most dubious:

  • Utility bills,
  • Rent receipts,
  • Money order receipts,
  • Remittance records,
  • Employment records, and
  • "Official records from a religious entity confirming the alien's participation in a religious ceremony"

In no instance is the type, quality, or level of detail required for acceptance of these kinds of records specified. Such statutory language is a counterfeiter's dream. Again, this is a lesson that should have been learned from IRCA, which suffered from substantial unchecked fraud, but that is apparently falling on deliberately deaf ears.

Finally, we must question CBO's assessment that a goodly portion of those who apply will be denied. Not only is it unlikely that they will be rejected, or indeed suffer any penalty whatever, for fraud, but the language of the bill is extremely generous toward illegal aliens with criminal records. There are two relevant provisions embedded in the bill:

With respect to any benefit under this Act, the Secretary may waive the grounds of inadmissibility under paragraph (2), (6)(E), (6)(G), or (10)(D) of section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)) for humanitarian purposes or family unity or if the waiver is otherwise in the public interest.

To explain: Paragraph (2) encompasses all of the criminal grounds that make an alien removable; paragraphs (6)(E) and (G) are the removal grounds for smugglers and student visa violators; and paragraph (10)(D) relates to the removability of aliens who have illegally voted in U.S. elections. These hardly seem appropriate for waiver. Note, also, the squishy language "for humanitarian purposes or family unity". It will be exceedingly difficult for the government to deny an applicant and not be sued for "abuse of discretion" when those are the standards for grants of waivers to criminals, smugglers, and illegal voters.

There is also this nugget:

Treatment of expunged convictions. An expunged conviction shall not automatically be treated as an offense under paragraph (1). The Secretary shall evaluate expunged convictions on a case-by-case basis according to the nature and severity of the offense to determine whether, under the particular circumstances, the Secretary determines that the alien should be eligible for cancellation of removal, adjustment to permanent resident status on a conditional basis, or other adjustment of status.

How long will it be until we see courts throughout the country entertaining alien criminals' requests to expunge convictions so that they may apply for amnesty? The question isn't out of line. It's already happening with gubernatorial pardons in places such as New York and California.

In sum, there can be little doubt that the joint CBO-JCT estimate is a lowball projection, or that the very language of the bill would promote fraud and lead to the "regularization" of immigration status for a significant number of criminals.

Are these really the standards the American people want to see used to grant illegal aliens an amnesty? Is there any limit to the economic, social, and public safety costs we must bear so that either side of the political aisle can see their party "grow"?