September 19, 2017

Suppressing the Benefits of Refugee Resettlement

There are two different stories contained in this New York Times article from this morning:

Trump administration officials, under pressure from the White House to provide a rationale for reducing the number of refugees allowed into the United States next year, rejected a study by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues over the past decade than they cost.

First is the appalling story of an administration ordering that evidence be generated to confirm conclusions it had already drawn. The administration rejected a report that had the audacity to look at both the costs and benefits of refugee resettlement instead of merely the costs.

John Graham, the acting assistant secretary for planning and evaluation at the health department…noted that Mr. Trump’s memorandum “seeks an analysis related to the cost of refugee programs. Therefore, the only analysis in the scope of H.H.S.’s response to the memo would be on refugee-related expenditures from data within H.H.S. programs.”

Mr. Miller personally intervened in the discussions on the refugee cap to ensure that only the costs — not any fiscal benefit — of the program were considered, according to two people familiar with the talks.

If one didn’t know better than to assume intent, one could be forgiven for inferring that administration officials opposed to refugee resettlement expected that an estimate of the net effect would be positive—that they already know, at some level, that refugees contribute more than they take and continue to adamantly oppose refugee resettlement for other reasons.

The second story is in the conclusions of the suppressed report itself. The report found a sizable fiscal benefit from accepting refugees, and was presumably made with access to administrative data not publicly available. Since the report was never made public, we cannot say precisely how its conclusions were reached or what data was used. But the fact remains that an internal government report found such benefits, confirming the conclusions of papers like this one, that have found similar positive results—although without access to all of the data that HHS presumably has.