The nation needs a comprehensive immigration plan, and it is clear from a recent poll that most Americans support reforming the U.S.’s immigration system. In a new poll, nearly two-thirds of people surveyed are in favor of a measure that allows undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship over several years, while only 35 percent oppose such a plan. And President Obama is expected to “begin an all-out drive for comprehensive immigration reform, including seeking a path to citizenship” in January.
Several top Republicans have softened their views on immigration reform following November’s election, but in the first push for reform, House Republicans advanced a bill last month that would add visas for highly skilled workers while reducing legal immigration overall. Providing a road map to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. would have sweeping benefits for the nation, especially the economy.
Here are the top 10 reasons why the U.S. needs comprehensive immigration reform:
1. Legalizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States would boost the nation’s economy. It would add a cumulative $1.5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product — the largest measure of economic growth — over 10 years. That’s because immigration reform that puts all workers on a level playing field would create a virtuous cycle in which legal status and labor rights exert upward pressure on the wages of both American and immigrant workers. Higher wages and even better jobs would translate into increased consumer purchasing power, which would benefit the U.S. economy as a whole.
2. Tax revenues would increase. The federal government would accrue $4.5 billion to $5.4 billion in additional net tax revenue over just three years if the 11 million undocumented immigrants were legalized. And states would benefit. Texas, for example, would see a $4.1 billion gain in tax revenue and the creation of 193,000 new jobs if its approximately 1.6 million undocumented immigrants were legalized.
3. Harmful state immigration laws are damaging state economies. States that have passed stringent immigration measures in an effort to curb the number of undocumented immigrants living in the state have hurt some of their key industries, which are held back due to inadequate access to qualified workers. A farmer in Alabama, where the state legislature passed the anti-immigration law HB 56 in 2011, for example, estimated that he lost up to $300,000 in produce in 2011 because the undocumented farmworkers who had skillfully picked tomatoes from his vines in years prior had been forced to flee the state.
4. A path to citizenship would help families access health care. About a quarter of families where at least one parent is an undocumented immigrant are uninsured, but undocumented immigrants do not qualify for coverage under the Affordable Care Act, leaving them dependent on so-called safety net hospitals that will see their funding reduced as health care reforms are implemented. Without being able to apply for legal status and gain health care coverage, the health care options for undocumented immigrants and their families will shrink.
5. U.S. employers need a legalized workforce. Nearly half of agricultural workers, 17 percent of construction workers, and 12 percent of food preparation workers nationwide lacking legal immigration status. But business owners — from farmers to hotel chain owners — benefit from reliable and skilled laborers, and a legalization program would ensure that they have them.6. In 2011, immigrant entrepreneurs were responsible for more than one in four new U.S. businesses. Additionally, immigrant businesses employ one in every 10 people working for private companies. Immigrants and their children founded 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, which collectively generated $4.2 trillion in revenue in 2010 — more than the GDP of every country in the world except the United States, China, and Japan. Reforms that enhance legal immigration channels for high-skilled immigrants and entrepreneurs while protecting American workers and placing all high-skilled workers on a level playing field will promote economic growth, innovation, and workforce stability in the United States.
7. Letting undocumented immigrants gain legal status would keep families together. More than 5,100 children whose parents are undocumented immigrants are in the U.S. foster care system, according to a 2011 report, because their parents have either been detained by immigration officials or deported and unable to reunite with their children. If undocumented immigrants continue to be deported without a path to citizenship enabling them to remain in the U.S. with their families, up to 15,000 children could be in the foster care system by 2016 because their parents were deported, and most child welfare departments do not have the resources to handle this increase.
8. Young undocumented immigrants would add billions to the economy if they gained legal status. Passing the DREAM Act — legislation that proposes to create a roadmap to citizenship for immigrants who came to the United States as children — would put 2.1 million young people on a pathway to legal status, adding $329 billion to the American economy over the next two decades.
9. And DREAMers would boost employment and wages. Legal status and the pursuit of higher education would create an aggregate 19 percent increase in earnings for young undocumented immigrants who would benefit from the DREAM Act by 2030. The ripple effects of these increased wages would create $181 billion in induced economic impact, 1.4 million new jobs, and $10 billion in increased federal revenue.
10. Significant reform of the high-skilled immigration system would benefit certain industries that require high-skilled workers. Immigrants make up 23 percent of the labor force in high-tech manufacturing and information technology industries, and immigrants more highly educated, on average, than the native-born Americans working in these industries. For every immigrant who earns an advanced degree in one of these fields at a U.S. university, 2.62 American jobs are created.
Ann Garcia, a research and policy associate for the Center for American Progress, and Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, contributed to this report.