The premier conservative think tank had high hopes of derailing the Senate “Gang of Eight” bipartisan reform plan, when it rolled out a new study on Monday warning that any form of “amnesty” for the country’s 11 million illegal immigrants would drain $6.3 trillion from the government’s coffers over the next five decades.
But the release instead drew attention to a controversial Harvard University Ph.D. dissertation by one of the study’s co-authors and a Heritage senior policy analyst, Jason Richwine. His 2009 dissertation claimed that Hispanic immigrants have an IQ “substantially lower than that of the white native population,” and that this supposed gap should be taken into account in future immigration policy.
In other words, the lead argument against immigration reform is coming from at least one researcher whose past work casts a tone somewhat similar to the boorish racial statements made by Tom Buchanan in “The Great Gatsby.” For a party trying to both appeal to minorities and prove its empirical rigor, this is a setback, if not a readymade advertisement for Democrats.
“Immigrants living in the U.S. today do not have the same levels of cognitive ability as natives,” Richwine wrote in his dissertation. “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach I.Q. parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-I.Q. children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.”
He went on to write, “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.”
So instead of going on the offensive to block immigration reform, Heritage now finds itself on the defensive.
Richwine couldn’t be reached for comment this mornig. Mike Gonzalez, vice president of communications for the think tank, stressed in a statement yesterday that Heritage senior fellow Robert Rector – not Richwine – took the lead in the study and that he relied on a methodology developed by the National Academy of Sciences.
Gonzalez also said that Richwine’s Harvard dissertation “does not reflect the position of the Heritage Foundation or the conclusions of our study on the cost of amnesty to U.S. taxpayers, as race and ethnicity are not part of Heritage immigration policy recommendations.
“Our vision at The Heritage Foundation is to build an America where freedom, opportunity, prosperity and civil society flourish,” Gonzalez said in seeking to wipe away the perceived stain of Richwine’s dissertation. “We believe that every person is created equal and that everyone should have equal opportunity to reach the ladder of success and climb as high as they can dream.”
The dissertation surfaced just as the Senate Judiciary Committee began a markup today of the “Gang of Eight” plan for toughening security at the borders and providing many illegal immigrants with a gradual path to obtaining a green card or even citizenship.
Independent of Richwine’s past research, the study has endured a barrage of criticism. An update of an earlier paper, which was used to help defeat immigration reform in 2007, the analysis is premised on the assumption that the majority of undocumented immigrants and their families will remain impoverished irregardless of their legal status.
The study claims that these immigrants would depend far more in government services, primary and secondary education, food stamps and Medicare and retirement benefits down the road because they are poorly educated and would be consigned to low wage levels in perpetuity.
“The low wage level of unlawful immigrant workers is a direct result of their low education levels,” the study noted. “Half of unlawful immigrant households are headed by persons without a high school degree; more than 75 percent are headed by individuals with a high school degree or less. Only 10 percent of unlawful immigrant households are headed by college graduates.”
The study was quickly hailed by arch foes of immigration reform, like Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., but raked over the coals by other conservative economists who argued the findings were exaggerated and failed to take into account the “dynamic “ economic impact that immigration reform would have to the economy in the long run.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the son of two Cuban immigrants and a leader of the “Gang of Eight,” challenged the study’s core assumption that undocumented immigrants who receive legal status will be more likely to rely on public welfare.
"That's certainly not my family's experience in the U.S.,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “The folks described in that report are my family. My mother and dad didn't graduate high school and I would not say they were a burden on the United States."
Former Gov. Haley Barbour, R-Miss., who co-chairs the Bipartisan Policy Center's immigration task force, called the Heritage study "warped" and a "political document."
Jim DeMint, the former Republican senator from South Carolina and the new president of the Heritage Foundation, was more than happy to attach his credibility on reform to the research from his organization.
"No sensible thinking person could read this study and conclude over 50 years it could possibly have a positive economic impact," DeMint said.
The Fiscal Times’ Josh Boak contributed to this article