Heritage Foundation Cost of Amnesty Report 2013

The 2013 Heritage Foundation Cost of Amnesty Report (officially released May 6, 2013) caused a significant backlash. The report was authored by Robert Rector with technical assistance from Jason Richwine. From the executive summary:

Unlawful immigration and amnesty for current unlawful immigrants can pose large fiscal costs for U.S. taxpayers. Government provides four types of benefits and services that are relevant to this issue:

  • Direct benefits. These include Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation.
  • Means-tested welfare benefits. There are over 80 of these programs which, at a cost of nearly $900 billion per year, provide cash, food, housing, medical, and other services to roughly 100 million low-income Americans. Major programs include Medicaid, food stamps, the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit, public housing, Supplemental Security Income, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
  • Public education. At a cost of $12,300 per pupil per year, these services are largely free or heavily subsidized for low-income parents.
  • Population-based services. Police, fire, highways, parks, and similar services, as the National Academy of Sciences determined in its study of the fiscal costs of immigration, generally have to expand as new immigrants enter a community; someone has to bear the cost of that expansion.


The cost of these governmental services is far larger than many people imagine. For example, in 2010, the average U.S. household received $31,584 in government benefits and services in these four categories.

Over a lifetime, the former unlawful immigrants together would receive $9.4 trillion in government benefits and services and pay $3.1 trillion in taxes. They would generate a lifetime fiscal deficit (total benefits minus total taxes) of $6.3 trillion. (All figures are in constant 2010 dollars.) This should be considered a minimum estimate. It probably understates real future costs because it undercounts the number of unlawful immigrants and dependents who will actually receive amnesty and underestimates significantly the future growth in welfare and medical benefits.

Heritage Foundation president Jim DeMint and Robert Rector introduced this report with an op-ed in the Washington Post on May 6, 2013. Below are a number of the major responses and the subsequent controversy of study co-author Dr. Jason Richwine’s Harvard dissertation on immigrant IQ.

Responses to the Heritage Report

Responses to Dr. Richwine’s Immigrant IQ Dissertation

For background on IQ and its use as an argument to justify immigration restrictions, see our backgrounder page on IQ deficit and our blog posts about IQ.

  • Ashley Parker and Julia Preston for the New York Times in an article titled Paper on Immigrant I.Q. Dogs Critic of Overhaul note the controversy about study co-author Dr. Jason Richwine’s Harvard dissertation on the IQ of immigrant groups. May 9, 2013.
  • The Heritage Foundation put out a blog post titled Heritage Statement on the Cost of Amnesty Study disavowing any connection with Dr. Richwine’s IQ dissertation and that he had any impact on the methodology or conclusions of the study. May 8, 2013.
  • Bryan Caplan in a short blog post titled In a Just World argues that firing Richwine for noting IQ differences with some immigrant groups was the wrong response, the right response being to fire him for thinking IQ differences justified restrictions. May 10, 2013.
  • Ronald Bailey in an article titled Are Hispanics Too Stupid to Become Americans? argues that Dr. Richwine’s conclusion that lower Hispanic IQs are due in significant part to genetics is misguided. May, 17, 2013.

"The Efficient, Egalitarian, Libertarian, Utilitarian Way to Double World GDP" — Bryan Caplan