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Study Finds Undocumented Immigrants Boost PA’s Economy

By: Andrea Sears

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Undocumented immigrants pay millions in state and local taxes in Pennsylvania every year, according to a new report.

The study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy gives estimates of the total of sales, real estate, and state and local income taxes paid by undocumented workers in all 50 states. According to Meg Wiehe, director of programs at the institute, undocumented immigrants nationally pay close to $12 billion in state and local taxes each year. She said that would increase another $2 billion if they were allowed to work legally by comprehensive federal immigration reform.

“In Pennsylvania, our report estimates that undocumented immigrants currently contribute around $135 million in state and local taxes,” she said, “and that amount would increase by roughly $51 million under reform.”

The report noted that many undocumented immigrants also pay federal payroll and income taxes, as well as excise taxes on necessities such as fuel. While immigrants often are portrayed as drains on public resources, they cannot access many of the programs their tax dollars support. Wiehe said she thinks the question that should be asked is whether they’re paying their “fair share.”

“And the answer is yes, definitively yes,” she said. “In fact, they’re paying a higher share of their income in state and local taxes than the average taxpayer in the top 1 percent.”

On average, the report showed, undocumented immigrants pay 8 percent in state and local taxes, on a par with middle-income taxpayers.

An estimated 137,000 undocumented immigrants are living in Pennsylvania. Wiehe said she believes any mass-deportation policy would cost more than the billions in tax revenue they contribute to the state and nation.

“Forcing out that many people would inevitably entail huge disruptions to the economy, as well as to our social and political fabric, that go far beyond the loss of workers and tax dollars,” she said.

A 2010 report from the Congressional Budget Office said full immigration reform at the federal level would generate more than $450 billion of federal revenue over the next 10 years.

More informtion is online at itep.org.

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