Lies, Damn Lies, and Congressional Hearing Statistics

Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee, got at least one thing right during an informal Congressional fact-finding meeting in Loveland on Friday when he said that immigration is an emotional issue.

On the other side of the immigration spectrum are the cold, unblinking numerical facts. Unless, of course, those statistics are folded, spindled and mutilated to advance an ideological viewpoint.

Though the event was initially billed as an official Congressional hearing on employment verification and work site enforcement, Guy Short, chief of staff for CO-04 Rep. Marilyn Musgrave’s office stated to a group of people gathered before the meeting that the testimony would not be included in the Congressional Record.

Unfortunately, Chairman McKeon and CO-04 Rep. Marilyn Musgrave took that cue to use the hour-long hearing to simply perpetuate myths, reiterate Republican talking points about “illegal aliens”, and float a trial balloon to gauge public sentiment on a national biometric identification card.

In her remarks to open this discussion, Rep. Musgrave set the tone by citing Census data that estimates there are 8.7 undocumented immigrants in the United States, she claimed that “some people” believe the number to be much higher without providing a specific source for that assumption.

In Rep. McKeon’s opening remarks he criticized the Senate’s parallel bill S 2611 claiming that if it prevails over the House version “up to 60 million more immigrants over the next 20 years coming into our country illegally.”

The source for the 60 million figure comes from the Heritage Foundation, a right wing think tank with anti-immigrant views. That number was revised down from a wildly speculative original estimate of 103 million persons which was modest in comparison to conservative Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (an ideological and legislative ally of Rep. Musgrave) who ridiculously claimed that 217 million immigrants would flood into the country. Sen. Sessions has sinced backed away from that figure.

The non-partisan National Foundation for American Policy blasted Sen. Sessions and the Hertiage Foundation’s methodology for apparently double counting new temporary immigrant workers and for taking the numbers of out of context. Based on research by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office on SB 2611, the NFAP estimates that the net increase in immigrants at 28 million over 20 years which isn’t substantially different than the number of undocumented people currently in the US who overstay their visas and those entering the country each year through illegal means.

Why is it so important to get the numbers right?

For one, the unsubstantiated piece of tripe from the Heritage Foundation was published in the July 2, 2006 edition of the Rocky Mountain News, among dozens of other media outlets and websites across the country. The public depends on the media to report the facts and provide editorial analysis based on the facts.

Unfortunately, what happens too often in the press is that ideologically-driven think tanks are given carte blanche to promote a specific viewpoint without regard for the facts, the context in which they are offered, or how the facts are gathered. How many readers have the time or inclination to fact-check what they’ve read and presumed to be accurate?

Then, the inaccuracies take on a life of their own as evidenced by Congressman McKeon citing these completely false statistics. Perhaps he should consult with Colorado Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez who knows a little something about blindly reciting statistics that are not true.