Illegal immigrants cost to taxpayers is a contentious debate

Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrant workers keep the Central Valley's economy humming — at a price.

Even though they help businesses by providing cheap labor and lower the costs of goods and services, they are a burden on local governments because they pay little in taxes, economists say. Their low wages, not their work ethic, are to blame.

That means the rest of us pay higher taxes or must get by with fewer government services to keep illegal immigrants here.

"So you're like, 'I only paid $2 for strawberries' — but then you get a notice about taxes going up, and you might not think those two things are connected," said Steven Camarota, a researcher with the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, which supports stricter immigration enforcement.

Just how much illegal immigrants burden taxpayers is hotly debated. Even though they have limited access to public services, their U.S.-born children can get a free education and sometimes qualify for welfare and food stamps. Meanwhile, illegal immigrants contribute little in taxes because they are either paid off the books or make bare-bones wages.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says state and local governments are hit hardest. The Washington, D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates for less immigration — both legal and illegal — estimates that the state of California and local governments will spend $21.8 billion this year for services for illegal immigrants and their children.

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