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Californians Tussle Over Immigrant Impact Figures

WITH hotly-contested races for governor and the United States Senate on California's fall agenda, the drain or benefit of immigrants to the economy of America's most immigrant-populous state is enlivening debate here. This year more than most, the statistics that Democrats and Republicans are throwing at each other are being put under the microscope.

Jeffrey Passel, director of immigration research at the Urban Institute in Washington, is the latest to enter the fray with new research. ``Immigration is on balance a plus,'' said Mr. Passel, offering evidence last week that immigrants provide a net benefit of $12 billion to the state, once government costs are subtracted from taxes and other revenues. His findings counter a November 1993 study by Donald Huddle, a Rice University economist, who says immigrants cost California taxpayers more than $18 billion annually in schooling, health care, and other services.

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At the national level, Passel says immigrants contributed $28.7 billion more in taxes than they used in services. Mr. Huddle says immigrants cost the nation $42.5 billion annually. Both sets of figures are under fire because of the organizations that commissioned them.

Huddle's report was commissioned by a new coalition of environmentalists and population-control advocates led by the Carrying Capacity Network. ``We question [Huddle's] methodology because it doesn't look at the economic consequences of immigrants,'' says Angelo Aucheta, director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. He doesn't take into account the effect of immigrant labor on costs of goods and services, immigrants' creation of small businesses, and the effect of immigrant demand as consumers, she says.

Passel's study was financed by the Tomas Rivera Center, a Claremont, Calif.-based Latino policy study institute. The Passel analysis has been taken to task in the press for not specifically focusing on illegal immigrants, but rather looking at all foreign settlers who have entered the country since 1970.

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