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Originally published May 8, 2013 at 8:18 PM | Page modified May 8, 2013 at 9:27 PM

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Senators told immigration bill a boost to Social Security

A bipartisan immigration bill the Senate takes up Thursday would pump hundreds of billions of dollars into Social Security and Medicare, by adding millions of workers to tax rolls, and provide a boost to the overall economy, according to a Social Security Administration analysis.

Seattle Times news services

Senate takes up immigration

The Senate will begin a historic debate Thursday on legislation that a bipartisan group of eight colleagues proposed last month that could overhaul the nation’s immigration system.

The so-called Gang of Eight introduced the 844-page measure in hopes of offering a long-elusive solution to the immigration problems that have plagued the nation for decades. It’s the first real effort in six years. The 300 proposed amendments range from an attempt to speed the path to citizenship for the youngest people here illegally to an effort to make it nearly impossible for most others to become citizens.

The leading opponent of the measure, Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, introduced nearly 50 amendments that, among other things, would limit the number of people who may gain legal status, block guest-worker visas if the unemployment rate is above 5 percent and require stricter border-enforcement measures before legal status is granted.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which will begin considering amendments Thursday, includes four members of the Gang of Eight: Democrats Charles Schumer of New York and Richard Durbin of Illinois and Republicans Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona.

The Judiciary Committee is expected to take up amendments Thursday on border security, immigrant visas and interior enforcement. The committee plans to meet again May 14, May 16 and other days as needed.

McClatchy Newspapers

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The assessment of the bill’s impact on Old-Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance (OASDI) is another entry in a growing body of economic data on both sides of the immigration debate, which kicks off in earnest Thursday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Overall, we anticipate that the net effect of this bill on the long-range OASDI actuarial balance will be positive,” Stephen Goss, the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration, wrote in a letter to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., an architect of the bipartisan legislation.

Goss’ analysis said the immigration bill would boost Social Security’s coffers by more than $240 billion over the coming decade and add $64 billion in new tax revenues to Medicare. It also would increase the size of the economy by a full percentage point by 2017, and would increase employment.

Those projections could provide a boost for the immigration bill, attacked by some conservatives as overly costly. However, the Social Security analysis doesn’t attempt to determine the overall cost of the bill. That figure will be provided by the Congressional Budget Office.

But the analysis does measure some effects of the bill, which aims to secure the border, create new avenues for workers to come legally to the U.S., ensure employers don’t hire workers here without legal status, and give a path to citizenship to the millions already here illegally.

The analysis finds that of about 11.5 million immigrants here illegally who would be eligible under the bill, around 8 million would apply for and be granted legal status. Many would immediately become taxpayers, but the bill prevents them from receiving government benefits for more than a decade.

In the longer term, most of these new taxpayers eventually would receive benefits, but the actuary said he still expects the bill would improve the long-term health of Social Security.

“Many of these individuals already work in the country in the underground economy, not paying taxes, and will begin paying taxes,” the letter said.

The letter also said that over the long haul, the benefits for immigrants who become legal would “become more significant.” At the same time, children of immigrants would “have substantial positive effects” on the fund.

Social Security’s woes

Social Security has long-term financial problems because, as more people retire and live longer, relatively fewer workers will be paying into the system.

In 1960, 4.9 workers were paying Social Security taxes for each person getting benefits. Today, there are about 2.8 workers for each beneficiary, a ratio that will drop to 1.9 workers by 2035 under current law, according to projections by the Congressional Budget Office.

The actuary’s letter suggests the immigration bill would slow this trend. Under the bill, there would be nearly 6.6 million more workers paying Social Security taxes in 2024, the actuary projects. That same year, an additional 683,000 people would be getting benefits. That’s nearly 10 additional taxpayers for each new beneficiary.

Enhanced security proposed for the nation’s southwestern border “will reduce the number entering the country without authorization by about half a million per year by the time the measures are fully implemented,” the letter said.

A report this week from the conservative Heritage Foundation said that legalizing immigrants would be a $6.3 trillion drain on federal revenues because they would collect more in government services than they pay in taxes. Other conservatives disputed the report.

The Heritage Foundation reached the conclusion by calculating that immigrants would receive $9.4 trillion in government benefits and services, while paying only $3.1 trillion in taxes. It already has come under significant scrutiny and criticism, including from prominent conservatives like Rubio.

Dispute over gays

Meanwhile, a separate dispute loomed as some religious leaders warned that adding a provision about gays to the immigration legislation could cost their support.

They issued the warning Wednesday over plans by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., for an amendment to allow gay Americans to sponsor their foreign partners for U.S. residence, as straight married Americans can.

“We’re extremely hopeful that this bill will remain an immigration bill and not get tangled up with the issue of gay rights,” Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, told reporters on a conference call. “But if it did, if it did, the Southern Baptist Convention would not be able to support the bill.”

Others on the call echoed Land’s warnings. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, labeled the provision “a divisive distraction that must not derail immigration reform.”

The four Republican authors of the immigration bill have said that such a provision could cost their support and imperil the bill’s chances.

“If that’s in the bill, that will kill the bill,” Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., one of the authors, said Wednesday. “We’ve made it pretty clear. Not pretty clear — crystal clear. That’ll kill the bill.”

If Leahy were to offer a gay-marriage amendment, attention would turn to Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to see whether they would support it. Schumer and Durbin are among Democratic authors of the bill, and both sit on Leahy’s committee. Both have expressed support for Leahy’s goals on gay marriage without saying how they would vote on his amendment.

Gay-rights groups are lobbying aggressively for language and dispute suggestions that it would jeopardize the bill.

President Obama included a provision recognizing gay partnerships in his own immigration bill, but he has made it clear in recent comments that the Senate measure meets his criteria for an immigration overhaul, even without the provision.

Analyst draws scrutiny

Meanwhile, The Washington Post reported that the co-author of the Heritage Foundation study critical of the Senate’s bill also wrote a doctoral dissertation in which he argued that immigrants generally had an IQ that was “substantially lower than that of the white native population.”

Jason Richwine, who joined the Heritage Foundation in 2012 as a senior policy analyst after receiving his doctorate in public policy from Harvard University in 2009, focused his dissertation, “IQ and Immigration Policy,” on his view that the lower intelligence of immigrants should be considered when drafting immigration policy.

“Today’s immigrants are not as intelligent on average as white natives,” he wrote in his concluding section. “The IQ difference between the two groups is large enough to have substantial negative effects on the economy and on American society.”

His assertions quickly drew attention, and the Heritage Foundation immediately sought to distance itself from the academic paper.

Compiled from Tribune Washington Bureau, The Associated Press and The New York Times

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