For years the debate over illegal immigration and its costs has been waged in the realm of anecdote and assumption; hardly the stuff of good public policy. State Rep. John Zerwas (R-Houston) is proposing a radical step: start collecting reliable data.

Zerwas’ H.B. 276 would require state agencies to annually report the cost of services and benefits provided to illegals. His legislation give guidelines as to the methods agencies may employ in gathering the data, up to and including asking if someone is actually in the country legally (“unless prohibited by other law”).

It’s easy (and generally correct) to say that tax dollars should not be used to provide services to illegal aliens. But the methods employed to ensure compliance depends on how pervasive the utilization really is, and in what areas.

Politically, a lack of reliable data has allowed all sides to demagogue the issue without serious effect. Opponents of illegal immigration can claim the illegals cost taxpayers almost any amount… and no one can dispute the claim. And those sympathetic to the illegals can claim the costs are minimal… without credible challenge.

Zerwas would have the state actually start collecting reliable, consistent information. That’s the right place to start when seriously seeking fiscally responsible solutions.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."