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The Economics of Congressional Immigration Reform / by Maria Hinojosa | December 13, 2013

The Economics of Congressional Immigration Reform

We often about immigration reform in terms of the human cost, the loss of lives, families torn apart, the lack of due process, and the conditions of detention. But what about the money side of the equation?

A report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says immigration reform would actually increase the GDP by tens of billions of dollars each year.

“Every time a new group of immigrants comes in, whether it’s Italians, or Irish, or Mexicans, or Salvadorians, the claim is always the same,” says Walter Ewing, with the American Immigration Council, “’’They’re going to hurt us, they’re going to drive down our wages, they’re going to drain our social services,’ and that ends up not being the case.”

One major point of contention surrounding any proposed reform is a pathway to citizenship. Ewing says granting undocumented workers legal status would give the US economy a much-needed boost.
“Undocumented immigrants would earn more. If you earn more, you spend more, and you invest more, and you save more, and you are more likely to start a business.”
A bigger workforce also translates into greater tax revenue. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it’s enough to reduce the federal deficit by a trillion dollars over the next twenty years.

bpc-immigration-infographic

Infographic courtesy of the Bipartisan Policy Center

How Immigrant Workers Benefit The Economy 

Roel Campos is a former Securities and Exchange Commissioner. He says the best research we have shows immigrant workers not only benefit the economy but also aren’t an economic threat because they don’t steal jobs.

“In fact what happens is that, because, you know, they don’t have the same skill sets that American workers do, they do their own work. They set up their own businesses. They do work that other American workers don’t care to do. They work in the fields, work at restaurants, work at hotels.”

Immigrants also tend to be entrepreneurs. They’re more than twice as likely to start a small business than the native-born population.

Campos says current policy costs the US in potential tax revenues. But the US is also losing out on innovation and creative capital.

“We’re educating phDs and high-level people with masters and PhDs, and then they can’t stay in the US, even if they want to,” says Campos. “So after educating them, we send them away, and go live in other parts of the world that get the benefit of the education that the US provided for.”

Immigrants also make up an astounding number of PhDs in STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. The National Survey of College Graduates reports that 40% of all PhDs in the sciences, and 60% of PhDs in Engineering, are from people born in other countries.

“If we had a comprehensive immigration bill… that bill would provide for very high skilled individuals coming from other places around the world to do jobs in Silicon Valley, in the East, all over America,” says Campos.

 

Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images 

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