Matthew I. Hirsch
As the recent budget impasse came to a close, the President made news by announcing he was prepared to restart efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). Whether or not this “can and should get done by the end of this year,” as the President said, is uncertain. House leadership has indicated it will not take up the Senate’s wide-ranging bill during this legislative session and might start next year with a piecemeal strategy, which does not provoke the anti-amnesty crowd.
One of the core principles of CIR is legalization of the undocumented. What are the economic benefits of legalizing the undocumented? A UCLA study looked at the 1986 legalization and found that legalized immigrants earn higher wages, move into higher-paying occupations, invest more in education, open bank accounts, build and buy homes and start businesses. Projecting forward, that study found that CIR would add $1.5 trillion in U.S. GDP over 10 years. More specifically, the report found that, in the first three years, the higher earning power of legalized workers would yield increased personal income of more than $30 billion, $5 billion in new federal taxes and enough new spending to support 750,000 new jobs.
The UCLA study was consistent with an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, which found that enacting CIR would reduce the federal deficit and “boost the economy.” According to the CBO study, after netting out costs, bringing the undocumented into the workforce would increase the economy by $700 billion and decrease deficits by $200 billion over the next decade. The CBO study also concluded legalization and a temporary worker program would increase the size of the labor force, provide long-term increases in average wages, boost capital investment and raise productivity.
But immigration reform proposals are not limited to legalizing the undocumented. They include provisions which would provide seasonal help for the region’s agricultural economy. To meet labor needs, mushroom producers, chicken farms and other agricultural producers in the region have historically relied on an immigrant workforce of dubious status. Enactment of CIR would obviate the need to hire undocumented workers by providing an improved system for meeting the labor needs of agricultural producers.
The region also has a large number of world-class universities which attract top students from all over the world. If enacted, CIR would mean these high-demand college graduates could find employment in our area, instead of taking their high-value degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to other, more welcoming countries.
Our area also has seasonal resorts. The Senate’s bill addresses perennial labor shortages in these areas by providing something missing from today’s immigration law – the “W” visa for temporary workers. Such a visa would provide a market-tested means of bringing screened, seasonal workers to fill temporary jobs, thereby helping business owners to meet their peak-season needs.
We are also a region that wants to grow its high-tech sector. Immigration reform increases visas for highly-educated innovators and entrepreneurs. Despite statistics which show the benefits of attracting foreign high-tech workers and entrepreneurs, today’s laws squelch innovation and deter investment from foreign shores. If passed, a new immigration law could stimulate investment and help our region to build out its entrepreneurial infrastructure.
The Senate’s CIR proposal also addresses concerns about future-flow, criminal aliens and abusive labor practices. It deals harshly with employers who hire the undocumented, increases the number of border agents and immigration judges, provides for enhanced enforcement, detention and removal of aliens involved with gangs, illegal drugs, and sexual violence, and cracks down on smugglers.
The time has come for comprehensive immigration reform. The White House is advocating for it. The Senate has managed to pass a bill. And in the Republican-led House, there are members crossing the aisle to support CIR. Polls show the American public supports immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. But, most important of all for politicians, CIR would offer substantial and demonstrable benefits to the voting public, and just might help them achieve their most prized goal – re-election.