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The truth, or not, about immigration

Immigrant_family_2 The truth on immigration policy is out there, but which truth?

The X-Files might have been about extraterrestrial aliens, but a series of nationwide Congressional hearings on the "illegal aliens" issue should be characterized using one of the television show's recurring themes: Trust no one.

These hearings, which kicked off yesterday in Philadelphia and San Diego, are the ultimate in dog-and-pony shows. Expect whoever is leading the hearing to carefully direct the discussion to support a predetermined position.

Depending on whether the hearing leader is for stricter border controls with no amnesty (the putative House position) or guest worker guidelines plus enforcement enhancements (the Senate measure), you can bet that attendees will primarily hear testimony supporting just that side. Reports on the first day of hearings can be found in the Washington Post, New York Times, Los Angeles Times and USAToday.

Oh, a few dissenting remarks might slip in, but don't expect this process to actually find any immigration truth that might be out there. That's too complicated and requires lawmakers and their constituents to actually weigh various and sometimes conflicting data and come to -- gasp! -- a compromise. I think that word's been stricken from Capitol Hill dictionaries for the last six years.

Of course, the threat of terrorism is bandied about. But I hear no discussion of immigration reform and how a fence across the U.S.-Mexico border could have helped prevent those buffoons in Miami from plotting (or, as their attorneys contend, be guided) to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago. Uh, they were already here.

Us_mexico_fence_2 Even the real terrorists who were in United States pre-Sept. 11 came in via East Coast airports, not our southern border.

And what about that Canadian terrorist cell, eh? Where's the demand that we put up a huge wall against the actual longest unprotected border, the one between the U.S. and Canada?

Canada_us_border_2 Not that I'm saying nationality and race are playing an inordinate part in the immigration reform discussions. I'm just thinking it. And writing it.

Then there's the cost argument. Suddenly Congress, which has been on the biggest federal deficit binge in history, and the voters who elected and re-elected them care about what something costs? How convenient.

By the way, just what will these hearings, set to continue into August, end up costing us taxpayers?

Deportation advocates point to the price to pay for undocumented workers' medical care, schools for their children and local police services. But just how much is this, really? Pick a study.

I suspect some undocumented workers don't avail themselves to a lot of services because they fear being sent back home. I've talked to tax professionals who work with low-income taxpayers, the category that most undocumented workers fall into, and they say a lot of their clients don't want to claim some tax breaks, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, for which they are eligible because they don't want to draw undue attention to their returns.

Yes, they are filing tax returns, paying taxes and bypassing legitimate tax breaks to ensure that they can stay here and keep working and keep paying taxes. Even when they're assured that the IRS enforces tax, not immigration, law and only tax law, they refuse to claim the credit.

What about those workers who don't file returns? Yes, the U.S. Treasury forgoes their income taxes. But if they're working for a legitimate company that's collecting payroll taxes on their earnings, they still are paying into the system. And if they're using a false Social Security number, they'll never collect that money; it just goes into the Social Security pool.

You also have to take into account other taxes these workers are paying, such as sales taxes on purchases (albeit not that many purchases given their usually low earnings) and property taxes if they own homes. And don't forget that if their children were born here, they are citizens so the school costs are for educating U.S. kids.

At least one public policy group, the Bell Policy Center (none of my relatives are associated with the organization as far as I know), has examined the tax issues of undocumented workers in Colorado.

The Denver-based organization found that the state's 225,000 to 275,000 undocumented immigrants pay $159 million to $194 million in state and local taxes. That comes to 70-to-80 percent of what it costs the state to provide K-through-12 education and emergency health care, as well as incarcerate those who are arrested in the state on criminal charges. You can read the full report on taxes paid here and the costs incurred by the state for services here.

The point: Undocumented workers do not create a complete, one-way suck on the U.S. economy. Plus, the raw numbers alone don't take into account intangibles, such as how these residents contribute to where they live in other ways, fiscally, socially and culturally.

There is no easy "one way or the deportation highway" solution to the issue of immigration, legal or otherwise. Unfortunately, we'll probably never know it from these hearings.

I'll guarantee you that Capitol Hill's main goal here is to push off any actual, comprehensive, realistic and fair decision until after the mid-term elections. And it's a long shot as to whether they can do it afterwards either.

So it might be wise to trust no one on November's ballots either, particularly on the immigration issue.


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