Saturday, July 20, 2024

Reform Immigration for the American Economy

As an avid supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, it is easy for me to talk about reform in moral terms. I represent one of America’s most diverse communities, and many of my colleagues — Latino state legislators in 25 states across the country – know all too well the personal stories and struggles of immigrant families. But in addition to what we know about the personal, moral underpinnings of our advocacy for immigration reform, policy should also be driven by sound economics.  We are a country being lead out of recession, while working toward passage of a legislative solution to our growing health care costs, and reinforcing our small businesses. Luckily for those of us who support reform efforts, countless studies show that comprehensive immigration reform would be a boon for both American workers and for our country’s economic recovery. And so, the time is now to finally fix our immigration system for the American economy.

We know that our system is broken. Countless advocates have shown that our current policy pits workers against each other, rewards bad actor employers, puts honest businesses at a competitive disadvantage, and leaves billions in taxes uncollected. Instead of adding full participants to our economy, states are leaving money on the table – unable to fully realize the benefits of immigrant economic activity while our state houses, like Congress and the President, are struggling to plug revenue holes and grow our economy for the future.

Perhaps most relevant in today’s recession, and particularly important to states, comprehensive immigration reform will raise billions in tax revenues by adding millions of new taxpayers, making everyone pay their fair share. And over the next 10 years, we can add $1.5 trillion to the overall US GDP, according to a recent UCLA/Center for American Progress study.

Comprehensive reform makes sense for states. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation performed an analysis of the 2006 Senate comprehensive immigration bill, estimating that the legislation would have created $66 billion in new revenue over a ten-year period, primarily from income and payroll taxes.  Think of what this new revenue could accomplish – $66 billion in new tax dollars pays the salaries of nearly 1.5 million new public safety officers for a year, covers the maximum Pell grant for college to over 12 million students, or gives over 9 million pre-schoolers slots in Head Start programs.

Comprehensive reform is good for American workers. Reforming the system will give honest employers who offer jobs with decent wages and good benefits the chance to survive and thrive, rather than lose out to bad actors who take advantage of our current, broken structure. When done right, comprehensive immigration reform will create a stronger and fairer economy for native-born citizens and immigrants alike, enhancing American workers’ access to good quality jobs, with good pay and benefits, rather than promoting the race to the bottom that currently exists.  And it will raise the “wage floor,” which helps both native-born and immigrant workers in these tough economic times.

U.S. unemployment hovering at 10% makes some question whether now is really the right time to create a pathway to legal status for unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States.  Underlying this uncertainty is the fear that native-born Americans will lose out on scarce jobs if currently unauthorized immigrants acquire legal status—despite the obvious fact that unauthorized immigrants are already here and in the labor force.

The best available evidence suggests that neither legal nor unauthorized immigration is the cause of high unemployment.   In fact, research shows that the higher wages and purchasing power which formerly unauthorized immigrants would enjoy were they to receive legal status would actually boost wages for all Americans and sustain new jobs.  Economists predict that the increased consumer spending from comprehensive immigration reform would be high enough to support 750,000 to 900,000 jobs in the United States – which is also a boon to businesses.  Even the Cato institute noted that “legalization of low-skilled immigrant workers would yield significant income gains for American workers and households.”

Meanwhile, mass deportation, the counter proposal to comprehensive immigration reform, would do nothing to benefit the ailing economy.  In fact, mass deportation programs would cost more than $200 billion in taxpayer funds to implement and shock local economies with trillions of dollars in lost spending and output.

The facts are so soundly in support of comprehensive immigration reform that opponents have turned to fear mongering and data distortion to communicate their point.  In tough economic times, when every penny counts, it is more important than ever to prioritize those common-sense solutions that will benefit the economy and save taxpayers money.   Comprehensive immigration reform is one such opportunity, and we must hold our leaders accountable to get it done.

Even when the moral argument falls on deaf ears, the numbers simply speak for themselves.

The author, Iris Y. Martinez, serves Illinois’ 20th Senate District, representing some of the most diverse neighborhoods of the north side of Chicago. Senator Martinez is the first Latina elected to the Illinois State Senate and the first Latina to be named Assistant Majority Leader of that body. In November, 2009, she was elected President of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators, a nonpartisan, 501(C)(3) organization based in Washington, DC, which serves the interests of over 300 Hispanic state legislators in more than 25 states across the country. NHCSL’s mission is to develop policies that enhance quality of life for Latinos and America. See


  1. Correct Thinker says

    America is a country of immigrants. All people who came here made great sacrifices and worked harder than even the citizens and under very difficult circumstances and thus contributed even greater than the citizens for a better future for America and for themselves.

    Henceforth recent studies conducted by experts and universities continue to show that legalizing the immigrants, who are not criminals or drug traffickers is in the best interest of our country’s economy and prosperity.
    A recent study conducted by Dr. Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda for the Immigration Policy Center and the Center for American Progress, estimates that immigration reform would add at least $1.5 trillion in cumulative Gross Domestic Product to the U.S. economy over 10 years. Over the first three years alone, the higher personal incomes of new and newly legalized immigrant workers would generate enough consumer spending to support 750,000 to 900,000 jobs in the United States, as well as increased tax revenues of $4.5 billion to $5.4 billion

    I thus think that passing of the comprehensive immigration reform immediately is in the best interest of Americans and our country. It will only continue to keep our country prosperous and great.

    It appears like many have opined that President Obama needs to lead on the Immigration Reform just as he led on the Health Reform. I think it will make all the difference. Also another favourable factor is that Immigration Reform has more bipartisan support than Health Reform. For example GOP Leader, Michael Steele is now supportive of it as told to an immigration delegation that visited him lately. Also Sen. Mel Martinez’s (R-Fla.) successor, George LeMieux, told POLITICO that he had not been approached about signing onto the Immigration Bill, but that the issue is important and he would be “happy to look” at a proposal

    The Great Immediate Immigration Reform Rally in Washington DC on March 21st has demonstrated peoples’ frustration and anxiety to get the Immigration Reform passed quickly without anymore delays. The pressure should be kept up continually on Washington till the bill is passed and signed. The “Immigration Reform” could even be a part of the” Jobs Bill” for passing it quickly or else if left to Washington, its future looks very bleak.

    Now that the Health Bill is passed, we should immediately get started on Immigration Reform to get it passed in time before it gets busy for the November elections. Since we were able to pass the most difficult Health Bill after almost 100 years of efforts, I think a sincere effort can soon make the Immigration Reform a reality