SUMMARY: Estimated numbers of undocumented immigrants in the United States have such high margins of error it’s hard to tell how fast populations are growing in specific states, while Hammon’s estimation of the cost illegal immigration has on Alabama taxpayers is way off the mark from studies done by immigration reform groups.
ANALYSIS: Alabama House Bill 56, “The Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act” has been cited by both proponents and critics as the toughest act on illegal immigration in the country and is likely to be challenged in court before going into effect Sept. 1.
Based on similar legislation from Arizona, HB56 would force public schools to do background checks on the immigration status of parents and children as well as make it a crime to knowingly transport, rent to, hire or provide shelter for an illegal immigrant.
In a phone interview with The Star, Hammon said Alabama has become a “sanctuary state” for illegal immigrants and repeated the claim that Alabama has “the second fastest growing illegal immigration population in the United States.” Hammon said illegal immigrants cost the state between $600 million and $800 million dollars a year, a figure he said was based on research done on the illegal immigration population of Arizona.
That figure “includes a lot of things,” Hammon said, listing high unemployment rates among legal residents of Alabama, medical costs of taking care of illegal immigrants, education dollars going towards educating children of illegal immigrants and tax revenue lost through illegal immigration.
Hammon said his numbers are based on a report published in July 2010 by the group Federation for American Immigration Reform called “The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers.”
Hammon said his $600 million to $800 million figure is an estimate based on FAIR’s estimate of local expenditures in Arizona, which costs taxpayers $2.7 billion according to FAIR’s study.
But what does that have to do with Alabama?
It’s tough to tell, especially since Alabama was included in the FAIR study, and the findings give a total cost of $298 million annually -– well below Hammon’s low $600 million estimate.
Hammon said the 2010 study was a “rough estimate.” FAIR claims its numbers are only “ballpark figures,” but still recommends their use for “policymakers and the public of the nature of the impact of illegal migration.”
It isn’t clear why Hammon didn’t estimate the cost of illegal immigration in Alabama based on studies of non-border states.
It also isn’t clear where Hammon got statistics to support his claim that Alabama has one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations. According to findings from the Pew Research Center, approximately 120,000 of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country live in Alabama. This is up from the 110,000 estimate from 2007, but according to an email sent to The Star from the Pew Research Center’s senior writer, D’Vera Cohn, these numbers don’t take margins of error into consideration.
“Although we think 120,000 undocumented immigrants lived in Alabama in 2010, the true number could be as low as 75,000 or as high as 160,000,” Cohn said. “In 2007, although our estimate for Alabama was 110,000, the true number could be as low as 55,000 or as high as 160,000. As you can see, the range of possible numbers for 2010 and 2007 overlap, and we cannot state that there has been statistically significant change.”
According to Cohn, this holds true across almost all states from the same time period. In the report “Unauthorized Immigrant Population: National and State Trends, 2010,” published in February, only the combined three-state statistical area of Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana saw an increase in illegal immigrants between 2007 and 2010 and Cohn said “even then, we made that statement with 90 percent confidence, in statistical terms.”
As at press time, Hammon hadn’t responded with a source for information regarding the claim that Alabama had the second fastest growing illegal immigrant population in the United States.
Whether or not illegal immigration poses a threat of “economic hardship” is debatable, but it would seem Hammon’s estimate on what that cost might be is heavily exaggerated. If Alabama is truly one of the fastest-growing safe havens for illegal immigration policy, no research has been done to prove it.
Star staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3548