Slowly but surely Washington is acknowledging the high cost illegal immigration inflicts on local governments. Today the New York Times reports on a study by the University of Arizona and San Diego State University showing counties along the Mexican border spent $1.23 billion processing illegal immigrants through their justice systems between 1999 and 2006. Cochise County, Arizona, supervisor Paul Newman told that Times: “This is a huge problem because we can’t keep up fixing roads, the other costs of law enforcement, keeping up health agencies.”

Heritage research shows the costs of low-skilled immigrants to local governments does not end there. In FY 2004, at the state and local level, the average low skill immigrant household received $14,145 in benefits and services and paid only $5,309 in taxes. The average low skill immigrant households imposed a net fiscal burden on state and local government of $8,836 per year. Current federal immigration policy permits a massive inflow of both legal and illegal low skill immigrants to enter and reside in the U.S. This imposes a massive unfunded mandate on state and local government which much bear the costs of that immigration flow.

Republicans in the Senate have offered a slew of bills designed to cut the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States. Democrats have also begun embracing a tougher stance on immigration and may force an enforcement-only bill sponsored by Rep. Heath Shuler (D-NC) to the House floor over House leadership objections. Shuler’s SAVE (Secure America through Verification and Enforcement) Act has drawn 140 cosponsors, 48 of whom are Democrats.

In the meantime, states looking to alleviate the fiscal burden from their illegal immigrant populations have a number of tools at their disposal including: 1) implementing REAL ID standards for state drivers licenses; 2) denying public benefits; 3) imposing sanctions on employers who hire illegals; and 4) ensuring voters are citizens. States like Arizona and Oklahoma that have already implemented similar measures have seen great progress in decreasing their illegal populations.