EDITORIAL Cost of anti-immigrant laws

State after state, some 45 in all, continue to suffer major budget shortfalls due to increased costs of anti-immigrant “enforcement only” local laws.

According to a report released last January by the National Employment Law Project, laws designed to “crack down” on undocumented immigrants lead to struggling economies after immigrant families abandoned the state.

It’s no surprise that the country’s estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants represent an important sum contribution to the local economies where they reside. Yet anti-immigrant and crack-down policies subject towns and cities -- and the country as a whole -- to grave economic risks. Immigrants are people who work hard and pay taxes -- sales tax, property tax, income and Social Security taxes and more -- that help stimulate and boost state economies.

The report found that Utah, Arizona, and Colorado are spending millions of taxpayer dollars in on punitive anti-immigrant ordinances that deny people basic human services. That denial of services, along with whipped up fear, drive both documented and undocumented from the area.

In Arizona, economic output would drop $29 billion annually if all non-citizens, including undocumented workers, were removed from Arizona’s workforce.

Many ordinances lead to costly and unnecessary litigation as well. In Riverside, N.J., a town of 8,000 has already spent $82,000 in legal fees defending its anti-immigrant ordinance, which was rescinded in September 2007.

The federal raid on the meatpacking plant in Iowa last year cost U.S. taxpayers $6.1 million, with a price tag of $5.2 million for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, followed by another $1 million for the U.S. Marshall and U.S. District Court.

There is also a human cost to such broken policies. A two-month year-old baby of immigrant parents had diarrhea for ten days in Oklahoma. The child’s parents were afraid they would be deported under a state law if they admitted him to a hospital. By the time they took him to a clinic it was too late and the child died of a ruptured intestine that could have easily been treatable.

States anti-immigrant laws cost $1.8 billion in economic losses as foreign-born workers continue to flee.

The real problem for state treasuries come down to unscrupulous employers who pay workers “off the books” and fail to offer a lawful wage or safe working environment. Labor laws that protect all workers -- with or without papers -- coupled with comprehensive immigration reform are what cities and towns nationwide should demand.

No U.S. employer should be allowed to exploit any employee or deny any worker the right to organize and join unions, nor should they be allowed to use the threat of raids and deportations against their employees trying to win better conditions by collective organizing.

We are living in a time where jobs are scarce, business is down and unemployment is up. The country is suffering its biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression and towns, cities and states need to see immigrant communities as part of the answer, not the problem.

Now more than ever is the time for practical, long term solutions. All Americans should let President Barack Obama and Congress know you support passing comprehensive immigration reform, which includes a path to legalization and citizenship. The economy can only gain from it.