While comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) remains stalled somewhere between the House, Senate, and the Administration, four noted experts were interviewed by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) about how immigration reform would affect the U.S. economy. These interviews were posted on CFR’s website yesterday. David Scott Fitzgerald, Associate Director for the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego; Heidi Shierholz, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute; Mark Krikorian, Executive Director for the Center for Immigration Studies; and James Carafano, Director for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation offered opinions on immigration and the economy. While their opinions varied widely, there were notable areas of agreement: our system is in need of repair, and legalization would not be the great harm to our economy that restrictionists tout.

So how would mass legalization affect the U.S. economy overall?

According to Fitzgerald, the effect would be positive, as legalized immigrants would start paying federal income and payroll taxes. These taxes would offset any social welfare costs becoming available like unemployment insurance, Social Security, and Medicare. In the end, Fitzgerald hypothesizes that CIR would result in a “slight net fiscal benefit and slightly higher economic growth.” Meanwhile, economist Heidi Shierholz points out that while new immigrant workers would add to our labor supply, they would also be steady consumers of goods and services as well as create more jobs. Furthermore, Shierholz predicts that immigration actually boosts wages for native-born workers at all levels of education—including those without a high school diploma.

We might expect to hear the exact opposite from the other two participants. However, Krikorian, a long time immigration restrictionist opposed to any type of legalization, actually agreed that a legalization program would help make the economy bigger. Carafano, another restrictionist, states that legalization would “probably be a ‘wash’ on the U.S. economy,” but admits that “there might be some modest benefits gained in recouping some taxes, imposing some penalties, and avoiding the cost of detention and holding immigration hearings.” However, as expected, Krikorian and Carafano peddle back their legalization comments with the typical restrictionist qualification that the economic benefits of legalization would be wiped out by the costs of implementation and access to social services.

But wait a minute, if everyone agrees that legalization is good—or at least not bad—for the economy, why aren’t we all supporting legalization?

While many disagree on how to go about it, most advocates and policymakers on both sides of the spectrum agree that something needs to be done with our current broken immigration system. Even noted immigration restrictionists like Krikorian and Carafano struggle to deny that CIR will benefit our economy. Of course, immigrant advocates and restrictionists are going to continue to disagree on the solution to the immigration problem. But Congress and the Administration should take note of recent research and analysis on the economic benefits of immigration reform and use it to push forward with finding a solution.

Photo by Visual Dichotomy