Yes, immigration is a federal issue. Yes, the appropriate policy solutions will be complex and precarious. But, often overlooked, is the simple fact that illegal immigration presents a tremendous cost on state and local taxpayers.

The state’s biggest budget driver is “K-12” education, representing a third of all state spending. A 2006 study by the Lone Star Report estimated that illegal aliens had cost taxpayers, in a three-year average, more than $3.7 billion per year in education costs alone – dollars that would have been available to improve services or (perish the thought) provide tax relief.Â

The Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute (a body made up of state lawmakers), used information from a 2007 study of Census data to determine that illegal aliens now make up 13 percent of the state’s school-age population – more than 600,000 children. The cost to taxpayers? It’s risen to nearly $5 billion annually. That’s real money.

But education isn’t the only place where illegal immigration is really hurting us. In health care, that 2006 study found, illegal aliens representing a tax burden of more than a half-billion dollars.

And TCCRI finds that the Children’s Health Insurance Program – which doesn’t verify legal status or citizenship – is estimated to be paying out $36 million annually in benefits to illegal aliens.

In policy area after policy area, budget line-item after budget line-item, the costs of illegal immigration to Texas’ taxpayers keeps stacking up. That some lawmakers make the situation worse by voting to ask fewer questions, or turn to look the other way, is inexcusable.

The solution to our immigration woes are far more complex than simply building walls or punishing employers; we have to look comprehensively at the incentives our public policies give people to break the law in the first place. Whether it’s the artificially high cost government mandates for labor, or the requirement that schools not ask parents to verify citizenship, or that simple fact that welfare programs hand out money and services to anyone who asks, our public policies are broken and making the situation worse.

While it is the federal Congress that must implement the long-term solutions to real immigration reform, state legislators, especially in Texas, must protect taxpayers by holding tightly the pursing strings.

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."