When a report by the Heritage Foundation asserted that immigration reform would cost the nation $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years, even many Republicans cringed. Based on dubious assumptions and methodology, the report from the conservative think tank claimed that allowing 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States a pathway to legal status would create an immense burden for public assistance programs. And when it emerged that the study’s coauthor, Jason Richwine, had received a degree from Harvard in 2009 with a dissertation arguing that Latino immigrants were less intelligent than other groups, it cast the assumptions underpinning the Heritage study in a disturbing new light.
Richwine has now resigned, but the fiasco continues to raise some understandable questions about why Harvard granted him a degree, even though it appears that all the usual academic safeguards were in place. It also raises a more fundamental question for conservatives who care about the right’s ability to generate ideas and policies: Why did an organization that was once considered a center of the conservative intellectual universe issue a report that even Haley Barbour, the former Republican National Committee chairman and Mississippi governor, called “a political document . . . not a very serious analysis”?