Saturday, January 29, 2011
A Pitch to My Republican Colleagues: Immigration Reform Now
by Congressman Mike Honda
[Article written for Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network]
House Speaker John Boehner’s pick of Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA) over Rep Steve King (R-IA) to chair the Judiciary immigration subcommittee is one step closer to the kind of reform for which past administrations, from President Obama to Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan, have long called. While both Representatives may be opposed to the kind of reform for which House Democrats are calling, Gallegly may be inclined to take the path more reasoned, especially if Democrats message effectively on the economic advantages to reform. There are many.
Immigration brings with it formidable fiscal implications. Keeping immigrants here or sending them home can save or cost taxpayers dearly, depending on what course is chosen. Just count the ways that reform, which puts our undocumented immigrations on the path to legalization, could foot our country’s finances.
First, any deportation plan of America's undocumented immigrants would cost our country's gross domestic product a whopping $2.6 trillion over the next 10 years, according to a study by UCLA professor Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda. Conversely, if we embrace comprehensive immigration reform, we add $1.5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product over the next 10 years. Hinojosa-Ojeda also projected that the economy would benefit from a temporary worker program, which would raise the GDP by $792 billion.
Second, immigrants who become citizens consistently pursue higher-paying jobs and higher education, spend more and provide higher tax revenue. Just imagine what 12 million newly documented Americans could do for the economy. The legalization process also brings economic benefits like the retention of remittances. Reform will reunite families separated by our immigration system and keep monies in the U.S., instead of having workers send substantial portions of their salary to their family members abroad. As an example of the potential, U.S. remittances to Latin America alone totaled almost $46 billion in 2008. Of that, Mexico received almost $24 billion. Reducing remittances offers obvious cash infusion for our economy, as billions of dollars currently being sent overseas would instead be spent in American shops and restaurants, creating jobs and helping to get our economy going.
Third, by affording 2.1 million American students the opportunity to pursue higher education or military service, our government could collect $3.6 trillion over the next 40 years. The DREAM Act, which failed to pass the Senate last month but remains bipartisan, offers a conditional six-year path to legal permanent U.S. residence for immigrant youth brought here as children who demonstrate good moral character and complete at least two years of higher education or U.S. military service. Without the DREAM Act, about 65,000 students a year –honor-roll students, star athletes, talented artists and aspiring teachers – will graduate high school and then hit a roadblock. Instead of entering college or the military, and gaining upward mobility and higher education, they are forced to live in the shadows and work low-paying jobs.
Fourth, the Reuniting Families Act, which I will reintroduce in this Congress, will allow all Americans to be reunited with their families, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender permanent partners. The economic benefits of this policy also cannot be overstated: American workers with their families by their side are happier, healthier and more able to succeed than those living apart from loved ones for years on end. By pooling resources, families can do together what they can't do alone -- start family businesses, provide care for the young and old, create American jobs and contribute more to this country's welfare. The healthier the community, the more expendable income is available and the lower the burden on government social services. This correlation is well researched and well substantiated, but it is up to us to make it a reality.
We understand that during tough economic times, the natural reaction is to close the borders and look inward. Yet, the irony of anti-immigration sentiment, which fears a loss of jobs for Americans if more immigrant workers enter the United States, is that it is fiscally more prudent to legalize, insure, employ, reunite and educate our immigrants than to keep families apart.
This is a time when we must use every available resource to stimulate our economy and control government spending. To my fiscally conservative Republican colleagues, the onus is on you. Left to future Congresses, the number of undocumented immigrants will only increase and the visa waits will only get longer. Meanwhile, we lose an opportunity to do what's right economically. The fiscal case is clear: Reform now.