Cruz's Arizona immigration claim is murky

Posted at 6:03 PM, Mar 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-03 22:37:42-05

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz talked tough on immigration - and referenced Arizona in doing so - during the Feb. 25 GOP debate in Houston.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Cruz what is wrong with letting the “good ones” come back to the United States during the Feb. 25 GOP debate in Houston.

His answer: 

"But what the state of Arizona has seen is the dollars they're spending on welfare, on prisons, and education, all of those have dropped by hundreds of millions of dollars,” Cruz said. “And, the Americans, and for that matter, the legal immigrants who are in Arizona, are seeing unemployment drop, are seeing wages rise. That's who we need to be fighting for.”

Arizona is no stranger to controversy with some of its immigration laws. But has the departure of undocumented immigrants helped Arizona’s economy to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars?

"...what the state of Arizona has seen is the dollars they're spending on welfare, on prisons, and education, all of those have dropped by hundreds of millions of dollars..."

We decided to put Cruz's statement through a PolitiFact truth check. 

Hard to measure

We found that Arizona’s undocumented immigrant population was on the climb prior to 2007, according to a Pew Research Center study. The population peaked in 2007 with about 500,000 undocumented immigrants in-state.

But from 2007 to 2012, the undocumented immigrant population dropped 40 percent. However, immigrants across the state were already leaving because of the December 2007 recession.

Arizona’s housing market crashed and construction jobs, one of the state’s major sectors, dried up.

But the meat of Arizona’s policies toward undocumented immigrants did not start until 2008.

Arizona required employers to use the federal E-Verify system in 2008, which requires an employee to have a Social Security number to legally work.

Finally, then-Gov. Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law in April 2010. The measure allowed law enforcement officers with “reasonable suspicion” to ask for a person’s immigration papers when engaging in a stop.

Most of the law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, but last September a U.S. District Court Judge upheld the law’s provision that allows police to question the immigration status of those they suspect are undocumented.


Welfare has “never gone” to undocumented immigrants, Liz Schott, a senior fellow and welfare expert at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said.

However, some children of undocumented immigrants are eligible for benefits if they were born in the United States and are citizens.

Steven Camarota, director of research at the right-leaning Center for Immigration Studies, noted that these U.S.-born children could share their cash welfare benefits with their undocumented parents.

Because it is difficult to determine how many undocumented immigrants receive cash welfare, it’s hard to credit this drop to people leaving the state.


As for state prisons, Arizona’s Department of Corrections tracks noncitizens, either documented or undocumented, with a felony conviction.

From fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2015, the state’s noncitizen prison population declined almost 23 percent, but that’s just about 1,400 inmates.

The daily cost of keeping a noncitizen in a state prison hasn’t changed much, either.

In fiscal year 2010, it cost $59.85 per day to house a noncitizen. In fiscal year 2015, it cost $61.55. That’s a savings of almost $28 million.

Elliott Pollack, CEO of his own Scottsdale-based economic consulting firm, said Cruz’s rationale bothers him.

“The cause and effect might be there to some extent, but I just don’t see how it saves hundreds of millions of dollars,” Pollack said. “There’s no evidence of that.”


On education, the state also does not track spending on undocumented immigrants in schools.

The Wall Street Journal article Cruz described uses the state’s decline in intensive English student enrollment -- about 80,00 students between 2008 and 2012 -- as a potential cost-saving measure, noting that it could save the state about $350 million per year.

But it’s not that simple.

“I think it’s a combination of factors,” Arizona Department of Education spokesman Charles Tack said, noting that the decline could be attributed to students leaving the system or being reclassified elsewhere.

Plus, that measure correlates intensive English with undocumented immigrants, which isn’t tracked to begin with.  

Our ruling

We reached out to the Cruz campaign for comment but did not hear back.

Cruz said, “spending on welfare, on prisons, and education, all of those have dropped by hundreds of millions of dollars” because of Arizona’s immigration laws that drove out undocumented immigrants.

That’s far from clear.

While it’s technically possible to receive cash welfare through U.S.-born children, undocumented immigrants do not receive cash welfare directly. And, the state’s prison and education budgets do not solely account for those without papers.

Even then, any potential savings would be hard to calculate. It is not an apples to oranges comparison.

We rate Cruz’s claim as Mostly False. 


For the complete fact-check, visit our news partner, PolitiFact Arizona