Immigrant tax impact assessed in report

But it does not classify legals from illegals

By Maria Sacchetti
Globe Staff / June 24, 2009
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Immigrants pour billions of dollars into state coffers every year in taxes, according to a report to be released tomorrow that promotes immigrants’ contributions but does not offer conclusive evidence about whether they are a net cost or a benefit to Massachusetts.

The report, commissioned by the Immigrant Learning Center Inc., an educational nonprofit in Malden, does not distinguish between legal or illegal immigrants.

It comes as state leaders and advocates for immigrants are crafting policy recommendations, due July 1, for Governor Deval Patrick after a year of research on the nearly 1 million immigrants in the state, said Marcia Hohn, director of public education for the center.

In addition, President Obama is launching a national debate this year over whether to grant legal status to 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, including about 190,000 in Massachusetts. Obama is set to meet tomorrow with key members of Congress to discuss how to proceed.

In Massachusetts, immigrants paid about $1.2 billion in state income taxes in 2005 and $1.06 billion in local property taxes in 2007, according to the report, which was researched by the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. In addition, in 2006, immigrants bought $19 billion worth of goods and services. That figure includes $346 million in sales and excise taxes.

More than half of immigrant households in Massachusetts owned homes worth a total of $81.3 billion. Immigrants also paid $2.3 billion in gross rents in 2007. About 35.8 percent of immigrants and 25.8 percent of natives paid more than 40 percent of their income in housing costs.

The report said that 16.4 percent of immigrants collected $1.2 billion, or about $8,674 per person, in government assistance such as food stamps - a percent that was lower than the 22.3 percent of natives.

But the report did not contain information about other costs, such as emergency medical care.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington estimates that illegal immigrants alone in Massachusetts cost taxpayers $580 million in emergency medical care, education, and incarceration as of 2005. By 2010, the group estimates, the cost would almost double to $992 million if they were granted legal residency, and reach an estimated $1.7 billion by 2020.

Massachusetts is home to 912,310 immigrants - 14 percent of the state’s population. Sixty-two percent have been here for a decade or longer. An average of 20 percent are here illegally, according to estimates earlier this year by the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center.