Immigration Reform 2013: CAP Finds Reform an Economic Boon

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CAP logo 300On this blog, I try to share both my thoughts and those of others standing for welcome at LIRS and nationwide.  Today, I’d like to introduce an interview by Luke Telander, Program Associate for Outreach at LIRS, with Patrick Oakford, Research Assistant at the Center for American Progress.

While immigration reform is certainly a civil and human rights issue, immigration is still in many ways primarily an economic issue.  Economic need and opportunity are the greatest push and pull factors for migration, and much of the xenophobic anti-immigration sentiment still present in America is due to an unfounded idea that immigration is bad for the economy and will negatively impact the economic opportunity of American citizens.

The research shows, however, that this is emphatically not the case.  In a new study conducted by the Center for American Progress, “The Economic Effects of Granting Legal Status and Citizenship to Undocumented Immigrants,” researchers Robert Lynch and Patrick Oakford find that providing citizenship to America’s undocumented will be critical for boosting the American economy, and the shorter the time frame, the greater the benefits.  Here are Patrick Oakford’s thoughts, shared via email:

Luke Telander (LT): What is the greatest effect that legalizing the undocumented will have on our economy?

Patrick Oakford (PO): The United States stands to benefit in numerous ways if the 11 million undocumented immigrants are granted legal status and citizenship. Perhaps the greatest economic benefit, however, is the ability of these aspiring Americans to come off of the economic sidelines and be able to participate fully in our workforce and society: working alongside their fellow Americans, buying homes, cars, and investing in their education and most importantly in the future of America.

LT: The path to citizenship has been a much debated piece of comprehensive immigration reform.  How would reform without citizenship, that is, creating an underclass of citizens, negatively affect the economy?

PO: The research is clear: Citizenship improves the finical stability of both individuals and families. Citizenship allows individuals to enter a labor market that would not otherwise be available them.  Many government jobs require workers to be a U.S. citizen. Similarly, some jobs require security clearance, which is often difficult if not impossible to obtain for workers who are not U.S. citizens. Therefore, if a worker is not able to obtain citizenship they may never work in jobs that best match their skills. There is a greater potential for workers’ skills being underutilized if we do not allow the 11 million undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship.  Similarly, if a person knows they are not on a pathway to citizenship and their immigration status in the United States is unclear, then they will likely invest much differently than if they were on a clear pathway to citizenship. For example, if someone isn’t able to become a full U.S. citizen, they may not invest in their education, out of fear that they won’t be able to get the full returns of that investment given the restricted labor market they would face.

LT: How will the inclusion of different tasks to achieve citizenship, e.g., paying back-taxes or learning English, affect the economy?

PO: An earned pathway to citizenship will only further boost our economy. When the 11 million undocumented immigrants  start down the pathway to citizenship they will likely have to pay back-taxes and learn English in addition to a host of other things. All of these requirements, however, take time, energy, and likely money on their part. The 11 million undocumented immigrants will be investing in their future in America.  An invested member of society is always economically a good thing!

LT: How would the inclusion and implementation of E-verify in conjunction with a pathway to citizenship affect the economy?

PO: Under current U.S. law, it is unlawful for an employer to “knowingly hire” an undocumented immigrant. If an employer is found doing so they stand to face harsh penalties.  Perhaps out of fear of these penalties, some employers fail to hire applicants because they suspect the applicant is an undocumented immigrant. Discrimination, whether on the basis of race, sex, or perceived legal status is never good for our economy; it creates a divided workforce, and keeps people from accessing jobs that best suit their skill set. If E-verify can create a process by which employers can reliably check the immigration status of applicants, then instances of discrimination and job mismatch will likely decrease. This will allow for a more productive workforce and improve the health of the economy at large.

LT: What gives you the most hope that comprehensive immigration reform with a sensible and timely pathway to citizenship will be enacted?

PO: Ever since the election this past November, Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are waking up and realizing that we cannot afford to put off immigration reform any longer. From the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” in the Senate, who have been working very hard to put a bill together,  to the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO reaching an agreement on a future visa program, it is clear that the tides have turned on immigration reform. Congress, policy makers, and the American people realize that we can’t afford to push off immigration reform any longer. We are seeing cooperation and coalitions forming today that we haven’t previously seen. This is more than just a good sign, it’s an indication that immigration reform is happening!

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