Heritage Foundation Drops Out of Immigration Conversation!


The Heritage Foundation, arguably the leading conservative/Republican think tank in Washington, D.C. has rightly taken a beating over its incredibly flawed recent report on the costs of immigration. That study, co-authored by Robert Rector and Jason Richwine, claimed that amnesty for illegal immigrants would cost the country $6.3 trillion over a 50-year span.

The study, which recapitulated a 2007 study involving Rector, came to its conclusion by essentially ignoring all the economic benefits that illegals provide to the larger economy. Most tellingly, the Heritage scholars abandoned the "dynamic scoring" model which Heritage pioneered to show how tax cuts can lead to increased revenues. A wide variety of analysts on the free-market right and among libertarian-oriented groups condemned the study for its methodological flaws. "Garbage In, Garbage Out," is how Reason's Shikha Dalmia aptly summarized the study.

The most interesting criticism of the study came from former Heritage scholar Tim Kane, who now works at Hudson Institute. Here's what Kane said about the new study:

I am disappointed in its poor quality. Heritage.org asserts on its main page in the biggest font I have ever seen (and I worked there for years) "The COST of Amnesty TO YOU > $6.3 Trillion."  Here we go.

It must be remembered that the same analysis was done by the same author in 2007, then warning the cost of amnesty was $2.6 Trillion (HT Andrew Stiles). But the current report indicates that the status quo cost of unlawful immigrant households is roughly half of the amnesty cost, which means YOU are already paying $3.15 Trillion. By this logic, the status quo (thanks to inaction six years ago) is more expensive than if reform had passed in 2007, to the tune of half a trillion dollars. The pileup of outlandish Heritage estimates presents a credibility hurdle.

In 2006, Kane co-authored a study on immigration for Heritage that flatly declared, "The argument that immigrants harm the American economy should be dismissed out of hand." In fact, Heritage—like most groups on the right—championed more-open borders until 2007. It's not particularly clear why and how the organization changed its stance on the issue, though Rector's 2007 study is widely credited with helping to undermine George Bush's comprehensive reform effort (another key factor: back then, organized labor was against immigration; now it tends to be neutral to favorable, sensing a shot at new members).

Heritage took another body blow when The Washington Post's Dylan Matthews reported that Jason Richwine's 2009 Harvard Ph.D. dissertation was an argument for keeping out low-I.Q. immigrants. Here's the dissertation's abstract:

The statistical construct known as IQ can reliably estimate general mental ability, or intelligence. The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations. The consequences are a lack of socioeconomic assimilation among low-IQ immigrant groups, more underclass behavior, less social trust, and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market. Selecting high-IQ immigrants would ameliorate these problems in the U.S., while at the same time benefiting smart potential immigrants who lack educational access in their home countries.

Richwine has resigned from Heritage and the group issued this pro-forma statement:

Jason Richwine let us know he's decided to resign from his position. He's no longer employed by Heritage. It is our long-standing policy not to discuss internal personnel matters.

I haven't read Richwine's dissertation (something I perhaps share with the people who hired him at Heritage), so I can't comment on its seriousness (though as the grandchild of four low-skill, low-I.Q. immgrants, I feel vaguely angry about it).

The real issue is this: Will Heritage, under the relatively new leadership of former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) start producing serious work again? Whatever Richwine's (and Harvard's) academic interests, he co-authored a rotten study with Heritage's best-known analyst. That study is a scandal and it points to a serious lack of seriousness at a think tank long known for providing scenarios that fail the smell test to credulous Republican politicians (recall the ridiculous unemployment estimates they provided for Rep. Paul Ryan's budget plan in 2011).

It's good to see folks such as Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) pushing back against bad research. "Here we go again," tweeted Flake. "New Heritage study claims huge cost for Immigration Reform. Ignores economic benefits. No dynamic scoring." It'll be even better to see Republican (and Democratic) pols refusing to use shoddy policy work in their arguments for and against various policies.

Heritage has all but conceded its study's flaws by dropping out of tomorrow's immigration-policy forum co-sponsored by Buzzfeed and the Charles Koch Institute (a Buzzfeed spokeswoman confirmed this for me this morning). Apparently defending its work in public is too high a price to pay.

Here's hoping the Heritage spends its time getting more serious about producing methodologically sound work on immigration.

Note on old anti-immigration images: Check out the great site of the Georgetown Book Shop for a great cache of historic posters and images about immigration and just about everything else you can imagine (radical political movements, journalism, travel, you name it). The same folks also host HistoricFootballPosters.com, another great time-suck for a Monday morning.