Heritage Foundation Challenges CBO Immigration Reform Estimates With Controversial Study

The Congressional Budget Office released a report saying the immigration reform bill could reduce the federal deficit by $200 billion over the next decade, but the Heritage Foundation has challenged that estimate, citing its own embattled report.

The conservative Heritage Foundation continues to cite its controversial study on the proposed "Gang of Eight" immigration reform bill, this time to challenge the findings of the Congressional Budget Office's estimate that the bill would decrease the federal deficit by about $200 billion over the next decade. The study claims the immigration reform bill would cost $6.3 trillion even though it only takes into account the amnesty portion of the bill.

When contacted by BuzzFeed, Heritage spokesman Daniel Woltornist said Heritage had no immediate comment about the CBO estimates, but recommended a preemptive post published June 10 that said the CBO's estimates would likely only report the economic effect of the bill over the next 10 years. The post refers to the study near the top, claiming it looked at the "fiscal costs of unlawful immigration and amnesty detailed fiscal costs during four phases: (1) Current law, (2) The interim period, (3) What Heritage calls the "full amnesty" period, and (4) Retirement."

A graph directly below that information highlights the $6.38 trillion in fiscal deficits Heritage argues granting amnesty would cost. The majority of the costs from legal immigrants as a result of amnesty would come in their retirement years which, according to the post, would likely be beyond the estimates of the CBO.

The study — co-authored by Jason Richwine, who resigned after the study was published when it was revealed he wrote a Harvard doctoral dissertation that claimed the "average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population" — has been referenced in various blog posts on the foundations website and in mailers sent out by its 501(c)(4) arm, Heritage Action For America, numerous times to discredit the legislation.

"The danger of putting too many things in one bill is that you end up having to pass it to see what's in it. But we know one thing: Amnesty for illegal immigrants is the first order of business," the foundation wrote in its "Morning Bell" email on June 12. "This is the wrong way to address a serious issue with trillions in taxpayer dollars at stake."

But the foundation's top leadership has said in the past the authors only looked at the amnesty portion of the bill and it was meant as a fiscal study, not a broader economic analysis.

"There are parts of immigration reform, undoubtedly, perhaps not in this bill but we could conceive of some reforms in our immigration policy, that would lead to economic growth," Heritage Foundation Vice President Derrick Morgan told C-SPAN in May. "But this study is looking at amnesty, which we oppose and which we don't think is necessary to get the bulk of economic benefits that we could get from a properly structured, merit-based immigration system."

A June 9 blog post read: "This week, the Senate will begin extensive debate on the Gang of Eight's comprehensive immigration reform bill. The bill would almost immediately grant amnesty to individuals who entered the country illegally, allowing them to live and work in the United States. As a result, they would jump to the head of the line, in front of millions who are waiting to enter the country legally. Heritage Foundation analyst Robert Rector estimates the long-term cost of this legislation would be in the trillions."

The CBO's report, however, extends beyond the 10-year window that Heritage assumed it would cover. According to the CBO report, the bill would decrease the federal budget deficit by "roughly $700 billion" from 2024 to 2033.