The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on California Taxpayers



Executive Summary

Californians bear an enormous fiscal burden as a result of an illegal alien population estimated at almost 3 million residents. The annual expenditure of state and local tax dollars on services for that population is $25.3 billion. That total amounts to a yearly burden of about $2,370 for a household headed by a U.S. citizen.

Nearly half of those expenditures ($12.3 billion) result from the costs of K-12 education for the children of illegal aliens — both those illegally in the country and those born in the United States. Another major outlay ($2.1 billion) results from the need to provide supplemental English language instruction to Limited English Proficient students, many of whom are children of illegal aliens. Together, these educational costs are 57.1 percent of total expenditures.

Other fiscal outlays result from the costs of medical care ($4.0 billion), public assistance services ($800 million), administration of justice functions ($4.4 billion), and general governmental services ($1.6 billion).

Because some tax revenue is collected from the illegal alien population, we include an estimate of this revenue from sales, income, property and "sin" taxes. Yet, it should be kept in mind that the $3.5 billion in tax collections is not truly an offset to the fiscal costs, because similar, and likely greater, tax revenue would be collected if the same jobs were filled by legal workers.

The adoption of new amnesty legislation, such as Senate bill S.774, the so-called Gang of Eight bill, backed by the Obama administration, would not be an economic benefit to Californian taxpayers as some have argued. Amnesty advocates assert that providing legal status to illegal aliens would reduce the cost of "undocumented immigrants." That is akin to arguing that the way to reduce speeding on the highways is to abolish speed limits. Doing so would eliminate speeding, but it would not eliminate the danger of operating vehicles at excessive speed, and, arguably, would have the opposite effect. Similarly, converting illegal aliens into legal residents would reduce the size of the illegal alien population, but it would not reduce the overall fiscal outlays associated with that population, and arguably would significantly increase them as the newly legalized residents became eligible for public assistance that was denied to them while they did not have legal status. It would also lead to additional illegal immigration as happened following the 1986 amnesty, which would further increase the fiscal burden.

The costs related to the presence of illegal aliens can be lowered. The most effective step a state can take to discourage the arrival of illegal aliens is to utilize the E-Verify screening system designed to prevent employers from hiring illegal workers. California instead is moving in the opposite direction by adopting measures designed to accommodate the presence of illegal aliens. A.B. 4, the so-called Trust Act, restricts the cooperation between state and local law enforcement agencies with federal immigration authorities. A more recent law, A.B. 60, gives illegal aliens access to driver’s licenses. This measure alone is going to cost the state of California, by its own admission, $64.7 million per year.