But the analysis — the estimate in which represented a dramatic increase over the $2.6 trillion tab that Heritage calculated in a similar study six years ago — was quickly denounced by other conservatives, who argued that the think tank purposely overlooked the role that immigrant workers could play in helping the economy grow.
“The Heritage Foundation document is a political document. It’s not very serious analysis,” said former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour, a Republican who is involved in a bipartisan group that supports immigration law reform. “The study is designed to try to scare conservative Republicans into thinking the costs will be so gigantic you can’t possibly be for it.”
The dispute could go a long way in determining the future of the sweeping immigration proposal, which faces fierce resistance from many Republicans who oppose allowing workers who entered the country illegally to become legal residents.
As the Senate Judiciary Committee prepares to begin considering amendments to the bill Thursday, opponents have accelerated a campaign to discredit broad portions of it. The Tea Party Patriots, a conservative grass-roots group, launched a campaign Monday called “No More Train Wrecks,” aimed at convincing lawmakers that immigration reform is too costly by comparing it to President Obama’s 2010 health-care law.
“Our nation simply cannot afford to provide every benefit of citizenship — including unlimited access to our nation’s welfare and entitlement programs — to millions of illegal immigrants,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said in a statement lauding the Heritage report.
Conservative opposition helped sink a comprehensive immigration bill in 2007, but advocates contend that the politics have changed because Republicans are eager to expand their appeal to Latinos and Asian Americans in the wake of last year’s election.
Key conservative stalwarts, including anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, the Cato Institute and the American Action Forum, have come out in favor of immigration reform, citing the potential for economic growth. Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), a tea party favorite, is one of four Republicans who authored the proposal with four Democrats.
But DeMint, who retired in December as a senator representing South Carolina, is considered an influential voice among conservatives and has been a longtime mentor to Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a tea party favorite who opposes the immigration bill.