Despite the failure of the House to act on immigration reform last year, there was no doubt that the majority of Americans—and even the majority of Members of Congress—understood that immigration reform was an important component in creating economic opportunity for all. Last Friday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor reiterated that support during an exchange on the House floor when he said Republicans were working on an “appropriate path forward” on immigration policies. “Immigration reform could be an economic boon to this country. We’ve got to do it right,” Cantor said.
Unfortunately, a very, very small minority of House Republicans still don’t get it, as demonstrated by a letter sixteen lawmakers, including Lamar Smith and Michelle Bachmann sent to the White House on January 8. Claiming to speak for out of working Americans, they rejected the idea that the House should pass immigration reform, arguing that the Senate’s bill would flood the market with low wage workers and destroy communities. Clearly, they missed their own party’s conversion on the economic argument, but more important, they ignored the significant evidence that points to the positive economic impact of immigration reform, using protection of the American worker as a smokescreen for restrictionist opposition to reform.
Given the significant misinformation in the letter, however, it’s important to have an easy reference guide to responding to arguments of this kind. In brief:
- Claims that S. 744’s legalization and legal immigration provisions are bad for the economy are just plain wrong. According to the CBO’s score of S. 744, it would help reduce the federal budget deficit by approximately $1 trillion over 20 years and would boost the U.S. economy as whole without negatively affecting U.S. workers, in addition to greatly reducing future undocumented immigration.
- More workers, and therefore more taxpayers, will boost the economy. A report by the Social Security Administration says the Senate immigration reform bill, S. 744, will create millions of jobs, boost GDP, and help balance the budget. It estimates that the proposed bipartisan bill will allow about 8 million undocumented individuals, many of whom already work in the underground economy, to become legal and pay taxes. As a result, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, the legislation will add more than 6.5 million taxpayers over a decade, generating more than $275 billion in revenue for Social Security. Social Security costs would increase by only $33 billion, resulting in a significant net benefit. The bill would also bring in more than $64 billion in revenue for Medicare over 10 years.
- The economics of supply and demand argue that American workers will benefit from legalization of the undocumented. Adding newly legalized immigrant workers, as well as those already in the U.S. to the labor, force stimulates investment as new restaurants and stores open and new homes are built. This increases the demand for labor, which creates pressure for higher wages. According to CBO estimates, the bill would increase the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 3.3 percent ($700 billion) in 2023 and 5.4 percent ($1.4 trillion) in 2033, and it also found that reform would produce an increase in average wages. Average wages for the entire labor force would be 0.5 percent higher in 2033 under the legislation.
- Threatening unemployment and low wages is simple a scare tactic. . There is no direct correlation between immigration and unemployment, and there is no statistically significant relationship between the unemployment rate and the presence of recent immigrants. The restrictionist letter relies on analysis that has been rejected by numerous economists, who overwhelmingly find that there is no negative relationship between immigration, low wages, or unemployment.
- Expanding immigration and supporting integration of current immigrants are better ways to help deteriorating communities. The letter writers also state that one of Congress’s priorities should be to “rebuild deteriorating communities,” but one of the best ways in which to do that is through immigration reform. Research shows that immigrants boost employment growth and small business creation in metropolitan areas. At the county level, immigrants have boosted U.S. housing wealth by around $3.7 trillion.
There are plenty of legitimate issues to debate on immigration policy, many of which are highly controversial. But before the year gets any older, we should once and for all put to rest the notion that immigration hurts America. Immigrants are good for the country, and all the evidence proves it.
Photo Courtesy of Jessica Wilson.