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IMMIGRATION MATTERS: Reform to Help Economic Recovery?

New America Media, Commentary, Andrea Nill Posted: Apr 23, 2009

Editors Note: Recent research suggests that immigration reform could add billions in new revenue instead of being a drain on the economy. Andrea Nill is communications and research associate at the Immigration Policy Center, a division of American Immigration Law Foundation. IMMIGRATION MATTERS regularly features the views of immigration experts and advocates.

Last week, the White House reaffirmed President Obamas commitment to working on immigration reform during his first year as president. While Obama has made clear that fixing the economy is his number one priority, a summary of recent research released by the Immigration Policy Center (IPC) shows that fixing the broken immigration system could bring us one step closer to economic recovery.

As right-wing pundits falsely claim that immigration reform would cost the American public billions, available research suggests that had the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 passed it would have generated a much needed $66 billion in new revenue during 2007 to 2016 from income and payroll taxes, as well as various administrative fees. According to Dan Siciliano, associate dean at Stanford University, "We know, from experience and analysis, that a legalization program helps grow the economy. Being undocumented causes immigrants not to invest in themselves, in their community, or their skills. Enfranchised consumers who are part of the above ground economy are more invested consumers. They are more likely to invest extra time, money, and effort into their children and themselves."

In fact, according to Giovanni Peri, associate professor of economics at the University of California, Davis, immigrants dont even compete with the majority of natives for the same jobs because they tend to have different levels of education and to work in different occupations. In contrast to what Rush Limbaugh and Lou Dobbs might be telling their audiences, immigrants usually complement the native-born workforce -- which increases the productivity, and therefore the wages, of the native-born.

Comprehensive immigration reform would also eliminate the trap door that artificially suppresses wages and would allow workers to compete fairly for the first time. Cristina Jimnez, an immigration policy consultant at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy has pointed out that consigning undocumented workers to a precarious existence undermines all who aspire to a middle-class standard of living. In a recent post on the Hills Congress Blog, Jeanne Butterfield, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, explained:

Moving forward with comprehensive immigration reform will ensure that all workers are here legally, will punish unscrupulous employers who undercut their honest competitors, and will restore integrity to the labor market. Labor leader Esther Lopez (United Food and Commercial Workers Union) confirmed: Comprehensive immigration reform is the only way we can level the playing field for all workers. By bringing people out of the shadows and by having legalization be part of a broader immigration reform, we can create an immigration system that works for the American worker. We can't, in this economy, leave 12 million undocumented workers out in the shadows.

David Dyssegaard Kallick, senior fellow at the Fiscal Policy Institute, added, "People don't just vanish and imagine what would be involved in driving out 12 million undocumented immigrants. Mass deportation isn't realistic. What is realistic is making sure immigrants work in the above-ground economy. Immigration reform isn't about being pro-immigrant or anti-immigrant -- it's about having an immigration system that functions and addresses what I think everyone recognizes as a broken system."

While a policy designed to deport approximately 10 million undocumented immigrants would cost at least $206 billion over five years, or $41.2 billion annually; immigration reform would pay for itself in the form of increased wages, buying-power, and tax contributions that would benefit all working men and women.

Related Articles:

As Obama Promises Immigration Reform, State Backlash Continues

S.F. Immigrants Testify Against Racial Profiling

Deportation Rips Family Apart -- Moves Student to Organize

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