Earlier this month, the Tennessee Comptroller John Morgan released a comprehensive study (click here for pdf) on the effects of unauthorized immigration on Tennessee and the Nation as a whole. This study, while not as comprehensive as it could be, does benefit the State by introducing some facts and reason into a debate which centers on hyperbole, myths, and outright lies about the effects of unauthorized immigrants on the State.
The Comptroller finds that:
Unauthorized aliens are not eligible for most public benefits. The cost of public benefits provided to unauthorized aliens are primarily restricted to elementary and secondary education and emergency and public health care as required by federal law. State and local governments have some increased costs from the incarceration of unauthorized aliens for criminal behavior.
However, unauthorized aliens contribute to state and local revenue as all residents in Tennessee through sales taxes on goods purchased, property tax through the payment of rent, as well as other user taxes such as those on gasoline. They are not able to access public services such as TennCare, housing, food stamps, welfare, and lower cost higher education.
One of the themes perpetrated, especially on Conservative talk radio and even the floor of our Legislature, is that unauthorized immigrants (or as Bob Clement calls them "illegals") are a drain on the state coffers. One especially infectious myth is that undocumented immigrants not only get all of the same benefits as US Citizens, but actually get MORE benefits...that they are somehow treated specially by State and Local Governments, to their benefit. The Comptroller does a great job of exploding these myths on a case by case basis, especially on the issues of public housing, health care, and college education.
Earlier this morning I tuned into Ralph Bristol who had on State Sen. Republican Leader Mark Norris on to talk about this report...it was like listening to two children who just found out the tooth fairy is really their mom sticking a dollar underneath their pillow. According to them, facts and details like those listed in this report are counter-productive to the efforts in the State Legislature to attack and scapegoat unauthorized immigrants for all the State's problems. Amazingly, Sen. Norris seemed almost proud of the fact that he and his colleagues did not ask for this report, instead preferring to base their legislation on rumors and innuendo perpetrated by the Conservative media in this State.
Frankly, I think it is about time that the State agencies take a more proactive role in bringing some truth to the debate over the effects of undocumented immigration on this state. I can only hope they will do further studies, less reliant on other State's data and more exclusive to Tennessee, to further show the positive and negative contributions made by undocumented immigrants to Tennessee.