Friday, February 11, 2011

(Re)calculating the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform

Last week, Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) made a compelling case for comprehensive immigration reform in Politico, pointing out the various economic benefits of a legalization program. In response, Heritage Foundation analyst Jena McNeill fired off a sharp rebuttal which advanced several common immigration myths.

McNeill starts by saying "the left" never argues that “amnesty” will improve the economy, but insists that comprehensive immigration reform will boost the economy. She’s absolutely right: supporters of comprehensive immigration reform like Rep. Honda maintain that it will yield significant economic benefits, but only if a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants (what McNeill calls amnesty) is part of the deal.

No one argues that legalization alone can fully solve the problems of our broken immigration system, because it won’t. Nor will enacting an enforcement-only immigration bill, similar to the one put forward by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Comprehensive immigration reform will fully benefit the nation’s economy and security only if it measures up to its name. In addition to legalization and border enforcement measures, a comprehensive solution should include provisions for families and future workers to enter the country legally. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano aptly calls this strategy the "three-legged stool."

McNeill goes off track when she declares that comprehensive immigration reform is actually a “code phrase for amnesty,” invoked because Americans are against it. I’m all for decoding long-winded immigration terms, but this is wildly inaccurate. Comprehensive immigration reform is not a euphemism for “amnesty.” The phrase refers to a package of policies, in which a legalization plan is but one controversial component. According to the author, immigration reformers are playing word games because Americans “by and large don’t support amnesty. That’s why Americans supported the attempt by Arizona to actually enforce the law.” But this isn’t the full story. Several polls show that Americans who backed Arizona’s law also think undocumented immigrants living here should be able to do so legally, after paying fines and meeting other requirements. Americans want elected officials to combine enforcement measures with a firm but fair path to legal status. Sound familiar?

This approach would add a staggering $1.5 trillion to the U.S. GDP over the next ten years, according to an influential Center for American Progress study. In his op-ed, Honda also explains how newly legalized immigrants are likely to find better paying jobs, spend more in consumer dollars, and pay higher taxes. Indeed,research on the flawed 1986 legalization bill revealed lower poverty rates, higher homeownership rates and generally improved socioeconomic situations among legalized immigrants. Continue reading here .............