Texas Report: Immigrants Help Economy

By LIZ AUSTIN PETERSON
The Associated Press
Friday, December 15, 2006; 5:13 PM

AUSTIN, Texas -- A report by the top financial officer of Texas claims illegal immigrants are more a boon to the Lone Star State's economy than a drain, adding another layer to the immigration reform debate.

Texas Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn found that illegal immigrants not only contributed more than $17 billion to the state's economy in the last fiscal year, but that they also pay more than enough in taxes and fees to cover the services they receive.

The report _ billed as the first comprehensive analysis by any state financial officer _ is being hailed by immigrants' rights groups and panned by foes who question its methodology and contend it was politically motivated.

Strayhorn just lost a bitter battle for governor after running as an independent and has been accused of manipulating state data to make Republican Gov. Rick Perry look bad. Nevertheless, her findings could inject new life in the debate over a national guest worker program, which has stalled despite support from President Bush.

There are an estimated 1.4 million illegal immigrants living or working in Texas, more than any state but California.

Estimates of their impact on the Texas economy have varied widely.

Strayhorn's report said they added $17.7 billion to the gross state product in fiscal year 2005 and produced $1.58 billion in revenues by paying taxes and fees and by playing the lottery. They received $1.16 billion in state services, the report said.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports tougher border security and an end to illegal immigration, estimated illegal immigration costs Texas $3.7 billion a year. The conservative Lone Star Foundation came up with a similar number in a June report.

In her report, Strayhorn said her estimates differed from the federation's for several reasons. She did not, for example, count the cost of educating the American-born children of undocumented parents.

Calculating the impact of illegal immigrants is "at best an educated guess," she said in the report.

Adrian Rodriguez, a vice president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said Strayhorn's report backs up his group's long-held assertion that immigrants help the economy.

"We already know ... that an economic benefit exists, it's just been difficult to convey that with the media because of the frenzy from people on the other side of the fence _ no pun intended," he said.

But Jack Martin, special projects director for the federation, said Strayhorn's report is "a bit irresponsible" because it doesn't consider the fact that if illegal workers weren't in the jobs they are in, those jobs would be held by legal workers, possibly at higher wages.

Still, Bill Hammond, the president of the Texas Association of Business, said Strayhorn's findings support his group's assertion that immigrants are an essential part of the state's economy. The influential business lobby group wants Congress to pass a guest worker program.

"If somehow these people were to be bused back home tomorrow, our economy would shrink by some 17 billion dollars and that's bad news for every Texan and every business in the state," he said.

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Associated Press writer Kelley Shannon contributed to this report.


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