On Saturday evening, presidential candidate Michele Bachmann announced her proposal to deal with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.: she believes, she said, that we should deport them all. When asked who should cover the estimated $135 billion that such an operation would cost, Representative Bachmann confidently said that the cost would fall to the American taxpayers .
Not surprisingly to anyone who reads this blog regularly, I strongly disagree with Representative Bachmann’s proposal, but what I find particularly disturbing as a pro-life evangelical—particularly because I see it as part of a trend—are the origins of the data that she used to make her argument. Representative Bachmann suggested that spending $135 billion of taxpayers’ money to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants was actually an investment that would pay itself off in short order because, she said, “illegal aliens” cost the United States $113 billion per year, of which, she said, either $32 billion (her first statement) or $82 billion (about a minute later, when restating her argument) are borne by the states.
When asked later where she got these statistics, Representative Bachmann referred to a press release from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Economist Alex Nowrasteh, who works for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank committed to free markets and smaller government, has done a thorough job of debunking both the methodology and the conclusions of this “study.” Real economists who do cost-benefit analyses consistently and nearly universally find that illegal immigration actually benefits the U.S. economy as a whole, but this FAIR report (like many of their analyses) is merely a cost analysis, which does not take into account the economic benefits of immigration.
FAIR claims—without any citation or basis for their assertion—that “most illegal aliens do not pay income taxes,” despite public acknowledgement from various government agencies that they receive payroll tax payments from between 50% and 75% of undocumented immigrants. Of course, by looking only at expenditures (and, as Nowrasteh notes convincingly, even those are based on some dubious presumptions) but not income, FAIR comes up with a big, scary, expensive sounding number—just as an analysis of any profitable corporation would suggest it was a poor investment if it analyzed only the company’s expenditures without considering income.
The reason that FAIR manipulates data is because it fits their organizational mission of reducing population. You see, FAIR sometimes is referred to in media reports (where they appear regularly) as an “anti-illegal-immigration group,” but the reality is that FAIR is, quite unabashedly, opposed to almost all legal immigration as well. That’s because their ultimate goal is to control population, and there are only two ways that a national population can grow: by birth or by immigration.
FAIR’s controversial founder, Dr. John Tanton, who also founded the two other largest anti-immigration groups in the country, the Center for Immigration Studies and NumbersUSA, comes to his convictions that population must be controlled from the fringes of the environmental movement. He believes strongly in the neo-Malthusian idea that the earth cannot sustain continued population growth. He’s a strong proponent of abortion rights—he helped begin one of the first Planned Parenthood abortion clinics in Michigan back in 1965—and he also speaks positively of China’s brutal one-child forced abortion policy, suggesting that India needs a similar policy. There is also a racial element: several statements—and his willingness to accept funds from a foundation that promotes white supremacy—suggest that Dr. Tanton is particularly concerned about the population growth of non-white people.
Dr. Tanton’s name was removed from FAIR’s online listing of their board of directors earlier this year after a New York Times article highlighted some of these eugenicist connections, but the board still includes a Planned Parenthood board member, and each of the three major organizations originally founded by Dr. Tanton maintain their commitment to population control, an idea that most evangelicals strongly oppose. While we are biblically commanded to care for creation—a mandate I think too many evangelicals have not taken seriously—the idea that we should ever terminate unborn human life to do so is anathema to most evangelical Christians (and is an idea that most Christian environmentalists, such as Flourish’s Rusty Pritchard, have condemned).
Now, to be totally clear, I don’t think that Representative Bachmann shares FAIR’s population control motivations—her voting record is consistently pro-life, and her decision (with her husband) to raise nearly two dozen foster children is one of the most pro-life actions I can imagine—but I find it very distressing that, in an attempt to win a political argument, she will use a population control group’s skewed data. I am disturbed whenever a pro-life legislator hands me a fact sheet from FAIR, the Center for Immigration Studies, or NumbersUSA—and this happens fairly regularly in Washington, D.C., as Dr. Tanton’s population control groups are the primary source for the sort of fear-mongering pseudo-economics that have so successfully convinced most Americans that immigrants are a drain on the economy—because I know they don’t share those organizations’ ultimate goals.
What has happened, it seems to me, is that many American evangelicals have become such fierce advocates for the lives of pre-born children terminated by abortions (as, I believe, we should be) that we have allied closely with the political party that seemed most responsive to our concern, the Republican Party. With time, though, many have also developed a fierce loyalty to the party itself—and stick with it even when, as I believe has happened, most in the party have moved away from the reasonable positions held by pro-life Republican Presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and instead have embraced immigration policies that are neither biblical nor conservative. What a sad, circular irony that, in order to defend these mistaken positions, some pro-life legislators now turn to population control groups.
Matthew Soerens is the co-author of Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (InterVarsity Press, 2009) and the US Church Training Specialist at World Relief. His blogs appear here on Mondays.
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