Whether the roughly 350,000 illegal immigrants in North Carolina are a benefit or burden to our state is a complicated question. I'm asked that quite a bit and there is no straight answer. There is a lot of conflicting information out there. And that's not surprising when assessing a community that does its best to remain under the radar.
One of the latest studies, by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, says illegal immigrants costs the state $1.3 billion annually. Meanwhile, a 2006 study by the UNC Chapel Hill's Kenan Institute says N.C. Latinos – of which half are undocumented -- contribute $9.2 billion to the N.C. economy.
So which one is right? I’m not going to pretend to know. They draw totally different conclusions, but both raise points worth a closer look. I'd recommend checking out the studies yourself, but here are some of the highlights. Since the FAIR study is more recent, I’ll start with it.
-- $975 million annually spent on educating the children of illegal immigrants, based on an estimate of 49,800 school-age, illegal immigrants and 69,800 U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants. Researchers estimated per pupil costs of $8,150 per year for public K-12 schooling.
-- $209 million-plus in health care costs. FAIR says North Carolinians who have medical insurance also pay higher medical insurance bills to help cover the costs of those without insurance.
-- $49 million a year for incarcerating deportable illegal immigrants at state and local prisons. FAIR says the figure does not include short-term detention costs, related law enforcement and judicial expenditures.
FAIR, which advocates for stricter immigration enforcement, says its findings demonstrate the extent to which illegal immigration has become a nationwide phenomenon and a burden on American taxpayers in every region of the country.
Read the full FAIR report here.
UNC Chapel Hill Kenan Institute study.
-- $61 million spent by taxpayers to pay for schools, health care and prisons to accommodate the rapidly growing Latino population.
-- $1 billion saved in labor costs had Latinos not been around to build an estimated 27,000 houses in the state in 2004. UNC researches said as much as $10 billion in construction wouldn't have been completed.
-- $9 billion contributed to the state's economy by the Latino community via its purchases, taxes and labor.
UNC researchers, which conducted the study on behalf of the N.C. Bankers Association, concluded that Latinos “contribute immensely” more to the state's economy than they cost taxpayers. Researchers concluded North Carolina needed the low-wage labor Latinos provide to compete in a global economy.
Read the full Kenan Institute study here.