Why Legalizing 12 Million Undocumented Immigrants Would Help U.S. Economy

Yesterday, Lamar Smith published an error-ridden editorial in USA Today in which he made a desperately weak case against providing 12 million undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. a path to legalization. Smith’s first line of reasoning is that the current economic recession would put Americans in a position in which they’re competing with immigrants for jobs. According to Smith, legalizing immigrants would flood the nation’s Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security systems and hurt U.S. taxpayers. However, Smith’s logic is mind-bogglingly flawed on a variety of levels.

To begin with, study after study shows that there is little, if any, relationship between immigration and unemployment rates at the regional, state, or county level. Furthermore, the potential economic benefits of a legalization program have been widely documented. 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 2007-2016 from income and payroll taxes, as well as various administrative fees. Giovanni Peri, Associate Professor of Economics at the University of California-Davis, further suggests that immigrants don’t even compete with the majority of natives for the same jobs because they tend to work in different occupations. Smith also sidesteps the argument that by legalizing the undocumented population, the “trap door” that artificially suppresses wages, benefits, and working conditions would be removed so that workers could compete fairly in an above-ground economy.

Smith hysterically claims that a flood of immigrants will flow into the country as soon as “amnesty” is passed and that a harsh policy of “attrition through enforcement” is the best way to deal with the nation’s immigration woes. Yet a study released today by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that the global economic recession is causing an international migration slow-down, echoing the well-documented claim that immigration is primarily driven by economics. Meanwhile, the OECD advises nations like the U.S. to “keep doors open” to immigrant workers in order to meet long-term labor needs. Watch the OECD’s video on the study’s findings:

Smith’s proposed solution of “attrition through enforcement,” a harsh strategy used to “wear down the will” of undocumented immigrants through deportations, detentions, and anti-immigrant ordinances, would cost taxpayers at least $206 billion over five years, or $41.2 billion annually. Finally, Smith cited a 2006 Zogby poll which showed that the majority of Americans prefer harsh enforcement policies that destroy communities, terrorize workers and rip families apart. Three years later, 2009 polling indicates that 68% of voters believe that undocumented immigrants should be required to register, meet conditions, and eventually be allowed to apply for citizenship.