Budgetary Rules Stacked Against Proponents of Low Immigration

By CIS on February 18, 2015

When the federal government issues an "unfunded mandate", it imposes costly regulations without providing the money that states or private-sector entities need to comply. Unfunded mandates reflect an irresponsible "pass the buck" mentality and — perhaps not surprisingly — immigration law offers many examples. One of the most prominent is the Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe, which effectively mandated free public schooling for illegal alien children. While the policy itself may be reasonable, the decision still imposes a significant, unreimbursed cost on state and local governments. Every time the federal government declines to enforce immigration law — as with President Obama's "executive amnesties" — new unfunded mandates are inflicted on the states.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform recently published a report that quantifies some of the mandates' costs in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Its ballpark estimate is that public schools in Montgomery County, Md., must pay $25,000 per unaccompanied alien child (UAC) with limited English proficiency. In Arlington County, Va., the cost could be more than $33,000. Of course, the recent surge in UACs from Central America makes up only a tiny fraction of the student population. But the cost of remedial English instruction in general consumes a substantial portion of local education budgets in high-immigrant areas.

Congress passed legislation back in 1995 to minimize the number of unfunded mandates going forward. The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act requires the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to report the costs of unfunded mandates in pending legislation. Unfortunately, the law defines an unfunded mandate rather narrowly. As the Congressional Research Service explains, federal rules requiring states to enforce constitutional rights are generally exempt from scrutiny. Presumably since Plyler v. Doe established that free public education is a constitutional right owed to illegal alien children, the federal government can impose that cost on states with impunity via non-enforcement of immigration law. The CBO need not document the cost even if it was the result of legislation.

There is something of a double standard here. Unlike requiring free public schooling for illegal alien children, asking states and businesses to assist with immigration enforcement does count as an unfunded mandate. The CBO notes that the Schumer-Rubio amnesty bill contained unfunded mandates on businesses to verify employment eligibility. So the unfunded costs of immigration enforcement are immediately flagged by the CBO, while the unfunded costs of immigration itself are passed over. Intentional or not, it's one of many ways that the budgetary rules are stacked against advocates of less immigration.