Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., on Tuesday called the Heritage Foundation report on the steep price of immigration reform “flawed,” and said author Robert Rector utilized cost estimates that are “dubious at best” and which do not assess the full potential of illegal immigrants who would be provided with legal status or a pathway to citizenship.
Rubio also criticized the report’s assertion that many newly legalized immigrants would lack a high school diploma and thus require far more in benefits from the government than they provide in taxes over a 50-year period.
Rubio’s parents arrived in the United States from Cuba in 1956.
“The folks described in that report are my family,” Rubio said Tuesday. “My mother and dad didn’t graduate high school, and I would not say they were a burden on the United States. My parents were a lot better off 25 years after they immigrated here than they were when they first got here.”
Rubio has a another good reason to dispute the report. It calculates cost based loosely on a bipartisan Senate legislation that he co-authored, which will be considered in a Senate committee beginning Thursday.
The bill couples increased border security with instant legalization for approximately 11.5 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
The Heritage report “did a cost-benefit analysis without the benefits, only the cost,” Rubio told The Washington Examiner Tuesday.
The legislation would provide a pathway to citizenship for many people who are now here illegally so most of them would be able to tap into federal benefits like Medicaid and welfare within a decade.
The Heritage report said allowing newly legalized immigrants access to federal, state and local benefits would cost the nation $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years.
“Their argument is based on a simple premise which I think is flawed, and that is that these people are disproportionately poor because they have no education, and they will be poor for the rest of their lives in the United States,” Rubio said Tuesday. “Quite frankly, that is not the immigrant experience in the United States.”
Rubio said the Heritage report “is a great report” for endorsing welfare and entitlement reform.
“That needs to be addressed,” Rubio said. “So, it’s a report for welfare reform and entitlement reform, not necessarily an anti-immigration reform study.”
Other co-authors of the senate bill, including Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, both Arizona Republicans, criticized the Heritage report on Tuesday.
But Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., defended the report and said the Senate’s GOP backers of the bill have it wrong.
“Immigration is not a straight, party-line issue,” Sessions told The Examiner. “And we have pro-growth Republicans that think if you just have more immigration, somehow the economy will grow and it will just take care of itself. But it’s not so.”
As for Rubio’s assertion that the nation’s welfare system needed to be overhauled while allowing 11.5 million newly legalized immigrants to tap into the system, Sessions said, “That’s a weak argument,” because entitlement reform has been even harder to tackle and is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
Rubio acknowledged the Senate bill is not perfect and said he wants to amend the bill in committee this week to boost its border security provisions.
“We are hearing from people that, because the federal government under both Republicans and Democrats have done such a terrible job of enforcing the law in the past, they want to make sure that even more things happen and I think that is a valid point,” Rubio said. “And we are going to address that through the amendment process.”
UPDATE, 6:45 p.m.: Heritage issued a statement Tuesday defending its study, saying in part, "Sen. Rubio’s family story is a testament to the American Dream," but that the "modern welfare state" put in place years after the Rubios arrived is now "threatening the American Dream." Read the complete Heritage statement here.