In a report released last week, the Cato Institute calculates the benefits that would flow to the U.S. economy from a comprehensive immigration reform that grants legal status to unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States.
This study explains the implications for the U.S. economy of seven different policies toward illegal labor, ranging from increased enforcement at the border and in the workplace to the legalization of currently unauthorized immigrants and creation of legal channels for future immigrant workers that accommodate actual U.S. labor demand. It analyzes those seven stances using a tool developed for U.S. government commissions and agencies called the U.S. Applied General Equilibrium model. The report concludes that "compared to either border or interior enforcement, a policy of legalization would, over time, raise the incomes of U.S. workers and their families."
A program to grant legal status to unauthorized workers already in the United States, combined with new channels for the arrival of immigrant workers in the future, would increase the productivity of immigrant workers and create more job openings for American workers in higher-skilled occupations. The net result would be economic gains of roughly $180 billion over ten years.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, an enforcement-only approach would shrink the overall economy, reducing opportunities for higher-skilled American workers. The result of this approach is a significant negative impact on the income of U.S. households, netting economic losses of roughly $80 billion over ten years.
The US Congress is currently drafting comprehensive immigration reform proposals. Mary Giovagnoli, Director of the Immigration Policy Center, notes this report's timely relevance: "...the latest CATO report makes the essential point that reforming our broken immigration system by bringing unauthorized workers into our tax system and on the right side of the law will help our economy. Continuing our enforcement-only policies not only neglects the broken system, but will actually cost our economy billions of dollars over the next decade."
Immigrants bring value to America in their roles as workers, taxpayers and consumers. The data demonstrates that, simply from an economic perspective, legalizing the status of unauthorized immigrants is in the best interest of the US citizen.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Restriction or Legalization? Measuring the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform by Peter B. Dixon and Maureen T. Rimmer