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By W. Gardner Selby November 12, 2010

Kathie Glass says more than 25 percent of state budget funds services to non-citizens

Libertarian Texas gubernatorial nominee Kathie Glass finished third; she also didn't get to hand-deliver her letter to the re-elected winner, Republican Rick Perry, urging him to send troops to the Texas-Mexico border.

Glass touted the letter during an Oct. 19 debate at Austin's KLRU-TV, Channel 18, then turned to the impact of illegal immigrants on state spending. "We have budgetary problems that are serious and (that are) going to get worse," Glass said. "These taxpayer-funded services going to non-citizens is over 25 percent of our (two-year) $180 billion (state) budget."

Whoa! Non-citizens cost the state more than $45 billion every two years?

Glass told us later she'd gleaned the 25 percent stat from an online post by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. We found Patrick's statement, dated May 1, on his Facebook page: "We need to control our border and determine who comes into our country. If we do invite workers to take jobs Americans will not take, we cannot allow those workers to bring entire families with them. While we do not have exact figure, an estimated 25 percent of our $180 billion budget goes to pay for illegals in Texas."

In an interview, Patrick told us that no one knows the state costs of providing services to illegal immigrants. He said too that he should have said "up to 25 percent." Later that day, Patrick said his percentage speaks to all costs, including costs to local governments. "Is it accurate to say it's 25 percent of every state dollar? That may not be accurate," Patrick said.

Patrick said factors behind his estimate include the number of public school students not proficient in English which, he said, can cost about 30 percent to 40 percent more to educate compared to English-savvy students. "On top of that, the law does not allow our principals to ask students how many are here illegally," Patrick said. "So we really don't know."

Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Suzanne Marchman told us via e-mail that schools might ask into a student's legal residency status. However, she said, a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidated a state law restricting access to the schools to legal residents. Hence, she said, districts cannot exclude any student based on their immigration status.

We were unable to verify the added cost percentages listed by Patrick, but we dug up some numbers on state aid to educate students with limited English proficiency. An agency pocket guide to public school statistics states that 17 percent of the state's more than 4.7 million students in 2008-09 had limited English proficiency; that's 799,000 students. Due to state school funding formulas, each district in 2010-11 gets an average adjusted allotment of $5,933 per student. Marchman said that each district fields an additional $577 -- a little less than 10 percent -- for each student with limited English proficiency. That makes for a statewide additional expenditure on LEP students of around $461 million.

We wondered how many illegal immigrants attend Texas schools. Marchman said the agency does not know. This year, though, the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center, whose declared mission is to "improve understanding of the U.S. Hispanic population and to chronicle Latinos' growing impact on the nation," drew on 2009 population surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau to estimate that a little more than 500,000 Texas public school students are children of unauthorized immigrants, spokesman Jeffrey Passel told us via e-mail. Passel said almost 70 percent of those children are U.S. citizens, with the rest being unauthorized immigrants.

Patrick said other factors include health care and criminal justice costs. As examples, he noted that at a Houston hospital, 70 percent of babies are born to mothers who aren't legal U.S. residents, a claim we confirmed earlier this year. Patrick also said nearly 15 percent of individuals in state prison for driving while intoxicated are illegal residents. Patrick's office later told us that, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 914 of 5,943 individuals in prison for DWI convictions, 15 percent, claim foreign citizenship. TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark told us Patrick's numbers reflected the prison system's DWI convicts claiming foreign citizenship as of May 31, 2010. In an e-mail, Clark said the state spent $47.50 a day on average per offender in fiscal 2008; a reasonable estimate of the total 2010 cost of imprisoning DWI offenders claiming foreign citizenship is nearly $16 million.

We wondered if anyone had added up the overall costs of illegal immigrants to the state; some have tried.

In December 2006, then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn issued a report on the economic impact on Texas of its undocumented immigrant population. It concludes that illegal immigrants paid more into state government in taxes and fees in fiscal 2005 than they cost the state, though local governments and hospitals spent nearly $929 million more on illegal immigrants than they recovered in revenue.

Strayhorn's report says that state educational, health care and incarceration costs due to illegal immigrants totaled $1.16 billion that year, while state revenues collected from illegal immigrants totaled $1.6 billion--nearly $425 million more than state expenditures related to the residents. The largest cost factor to the state was education, followed by incarceration and health care. Consumption taxes and fees, the largest of which is the sales tax, were the largest revenue generators from undocumented immigrants, the report says.

We made a run at applying the Strayhorn report to the latest state budget.

Taking into account inflation, the comptroller's estimated state costs due to illegal immigrants would be $1.3 billion by 2010, while payments to the state by illegal immigrants would be $1.8 billion, for a net gain of $500 million. We then doubled the cost figure to estimate state expenditures on services to illegal immigrants for the 2010-11 state budget period. The resulting $2.6 billion equals 1.4 percent of $182 billion in state, federal and other funds budgeted by state legislators for the period.

More recently, Austin consultant James Aalan Bernsen wrote a 2009 analysis of the costs of illegal immigration to Texas for the Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas, which advocates for stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States. Bernsen's 13-page report draws on U.S. Census population estimates and research by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which says it seeks to improve border security and stop illegal immigration. The report lays out Bernsen's methodology for reaching an annual net cost to Texas estimate of $4.5 billion to $6 billion.

We doubled Bernsen's high-end net cost to get a two-year estimate, with the result that services to illegal immigrants by his methodology account for about 7 percent of the 2010-11 state budget. In an interview, Bernsen termed not credible the "over 25 percent" figure aired by Glass; the cost to the state of serving illegal immigrants, Bernsen said, is "not to that extreme."

Finally, we asked the Pew Hispanic Center and FAIR if they had estimated the cost to the state of Texas from serving illegal immigrants. Passel said the Pew center doesn't have that information. FAIR spokeswoman Kristen Williamson said that group estimates that illegal immigration in 2010 is costing Texas taxpayers nearly $8.9 billion a year, though Williamson said it has not broken out costs solely related to the state budget. "It could take one researcher four or five years to comb through the state budget to come up with all the costs," Williamson speculated.

Summing up: Glass based her claim on a months' old Facebook post that she evidently didn't verify and that the senator who made the post says may be overstated. A 2009 analysis by an anti-illegal immigration group pegs the cost of services to illegal immigrants at a figure that's about 7 percent of the state's budget -- up to $12 billion over two years, well short of the $45 billion suggested by Glass. And the only relevant state agency report we found said that state revenue from illegal immigrants exceeded what they cost the state budget in fiscal 2005.

Significantly, there's a paucity of information on which to ground such estimates.

Regardless, we rate the statement so far off, it's ridiculous. Pants on Fire!

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

E-mail (excerpted), Logan Spence, chief of staff, state Sen. Dan Patrick, Houston, response to PolitiFact Texas (excerpted), Oct. 22, 2010

E-mails (excerpted), responses to PolitiFact Texas, Suzanne Marchman, spokeswoman, Texas Education Agency, Nov. 9, 2010

James Aalan Bernsen, consultant, Austin, report for Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas, "Illegal Immigration, The Costs to Texas, 2009," undated (accessed Nov. 9, 2010)

E-mails, responses to PolitiFact Texas, Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer, Pew Hispanic Center, Nov. 9, 2010

Federation for American Immigration Reform, website, "About FAIR" and Texas fact sheet (accessed Nov. 10, 2010)

Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas, website, "Mission Statement," (accessed Nov. 10, 2010)

Interview, James Aalan Bernsen, Austin, Nov. 9, 2010

Interviews, state Sen. Dan Patrick, Houston, Oct. 22, 2010

Interview, Kristen Williamson, communications assistant, FAIR, Washington, Nov. 10, 2010

KLRU-TV, Austin, "Gubernatorial Debate," Oct. 20, 2010 (accessed Nov. 8, 2010)

Legislative Budget Board, report, "Fiscal Size-up, 2010-11 Biennium," December 2009 (accessed Nov. 8, 2010)

Dan Patrick, Facebook post (excerpted), May 1, 2010

Pew Research Center, website, "The Center & Its Projects," (accessed Nov. 10, 2010)

Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, report, "Undocumented Immigrants in Texas: A Financial Analysis of the Impact to the State Budget and Economy," December 2006 (accessed Nov. 8, 2010)

Texas Education Agency, "Pocket Edition, 2008-09 Texas Public School Statistics," (accessed Nov. 8, 2010)

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, inflation calculator (accessed Nov. 8, 2010)

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