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Arizona’s Immigration Situation: Just the Facts

Amid all the impassioned support for and angry backlash against Arizona’s new law to curb illegal immigration, the facts on the matter are being totally obscured. A new short brief  by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University finds that while some public policy claims about the state’s illegal immigration situation are well-founded, others are demonstratively false or not clearly established from given data. To help clear-up the public policy debate, the brief ticks off nine clarifications, from the popularity of the state’s new bill to the impact of undocumented immigrants on crime, health costs, and school systems.

For example, the brief does provide numbers to show that most Arizona voters (nearly two-thirds) do favor toughened immigration rules. And it does concur with the observation that low-skilled workers are hurt when undocumented workers compete for their jobs and push down their wages. 

At the same time, the brief disputes several false or inconclusive claims. Most notably, it observes that:

·         Data does not support the notion that most violent crime in Arizona is committed by undocumented immigrants. For starters, Arizona is currently enjoying a low-crime period. Further, crime data from Arizona (and most other states) rarely note the suspect’s immigration status. Moreover, national studies find that immigrant men have lower rates of crime and incarceration than native-born residents

·         Despite assertions to the contrary, undocumented immigrants are no longer entering Arizona in record numbers. The flow of undocumented immigrants to the states probably peaked in the late 1990’s or early 2000’s. Most experts agree that since the start of the current economic downturn this migration has slowed markedly or essentially stopped with the disappearance of jobs in Arizona

·         The claim about undocumented immigrants flooding the state’s public health system is just false. Undocumented immigrants have been ineligible for the state’s health care program for the indigent since 2004, and they make only six percent of the total cost to Arizona’s hospital system of treating uninsured and underinsured patients. Some national studies have indicated that undocumented immigrants actually use hospital emergency room services proportionately less often than native-born people

·         While the children of undocumented immigrants do add to the state’s student population and thus its education costs, there is no evidence to support the claim that the public school system is overwhelmed.

Many thanks goes to the Morrison Institute for bringing these and other facts to the table, and providing some well-informed restraint to immigration debates that too frequently rage unchecked in a “fact-free zone.”