Bernanke Recommends Congress Take Up Immigration

In his testimony before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee late last week, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke listed immigration reform as one of the issues Congress can and should take up to advance the nation’s economy:

There are a lot of things Congress can do…there’s tax policy, there’s immigration policy, trade policy. […]

I think frankly, this is a topic that I can never get much traction on — I think our immigration policy which restricts severely the number of highly-trained skilled immigrants is a problem because bringing those kind of folks in helps our high-tech industries develop more competitively — become more competitive.

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Last year Bernanke told a Congressional panel that “by opening doors to more people with top technical skills…you’d keep companies here, and you’d have more innovation here, and you’d have more growth here.” Bernanke has also indicated that in order to overcome the effects of an aging population, immigration would have to rise to 3.5 million people annually.

Bernanke’s predecessor, Alan Greenspan, agrees. Back in December, Greenspan testified that immigrants of all skill-levels are “affecting the economy in a positive way.” Greenspan also affirmed that “we would have a very serious problem” if the U.S. tried to embark on a massive deportation program that would involve sending the nation’s undocumented immigrants back home.

While neither Greenspan or Bernanke will likely win Wonk Room Economics blogger Pat Garofalo’s “Person of the Year Award,” their remarks are indicative of growing consensus amongst several leading economists when it comes to immigration and the economy. Tom Freidman has written, “When the best brains in the world are on sale, you don’t shut them out. You open your doors wider. We need to attack this financial crisis with green cards not just greenbacks.” A recent report by Raul Hinojosa of the University of California, Los Angeles further found that immigration reform which includes a path legalization could generate at least $1.5 trillion in added U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years. The Center for American Progress has estimated that mass deportations could cost the U.S. up to $230 billion or more.