The co-author of a disputed immigration study by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, resigned Friday after questions were raised about racially charged conclusions made in his previous work.
The departure of Jason Richwine, who joined the organization in 2010, came as Heritage sought to move past a barrage of criticism from liberals and conservatives alike over the methodology used in its report that pegged the cost of legalizing 11 million undocumented immigrants at $6.3 trillion.
Heritage spent months preparing for its rollout of the report, which it hoped would reset the immigration debate in Washington and provide a splashy introduction for its new president, Jim DeMint, a former Republican senator from South Carolina.
Instead, the report has landed with a thud this week, placing the venerable institution under fire even from longtime allies on the right. The fall from grace came less than five weeks after DeMint took the helm in a surprise move after leaving Congress.
“What’s so disappointing about the Heritage immigration study is that it is so different from their other work,” said Alex Nowrasteh, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. “They employed a statistical method that no other economist would use to measure things like this, and on such an important policy issue. And they predictably reached terrible results.”
Heritage officials declined to comment on Richwine’s departure. But the self-inflicted wound has reverberated inside Washington’s influence industry and, according to several people familiar with Heritage, has set off a round of internal recriminations.
For DeMint, the missteps have set up a tricky choice over whether to stand by the immigration report or back away from it, considering that the negative publicity has blunted any potential policy impact.
So far, the organization has defended its methodology, which determined that low-skilled immigrants have less education and lower IQs and will earn less money and need more benefits than average Americans.
Update: Molly Ball wrote a piece for The Atlantic titled "The Fall of the Heritage Foundation and the Death of Republican Ideas."
Heritage is not the only think tank under attack. Ken Silvertein just wrote a piece titled "They Pretend to Think, We Pretend to Listen," in which he bashes the Center for American Progress (CAP).