CAPITOL HILL — A congressional report estimates that reforming America's immigration system and legalizing 11 million undocumented immigrants would boost U.S. economic growth and shrink the federal deficit. The report was seized upon by senators debating an overhaul to federal immigration laws.
Legalizing millions of unauthorized immigrants would have an almost entirely positive effect on America’s economic fortunes, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
The CBO says the immigration reform bill before the Senate would, if implemented, add more than five percent to economic growth and trim deficits by about $900 billion over the next 20 years.
Backers of immigration reform pounced on the news.
“I have been saying all along that bringing 11 million people out of the shadows and fixing our broken immigration system will increase the gross domestic product and decrease the deficit," said Democratic Senator Robert Menendez. "And now we know by how much."
For months, critics of the Senate bill have argued a sudden surge in America’s legal workforce would depress U.S. wages and overburden the nation’s social safety net, necessitating a boost in government spending.
In fact, the CBO report does predict a slight initial dampening of U.S. wage growth, but higher wages thereafter. And it directly contradicts predictions of a net drain of public resources, something Senator Menendez was eager to trumpet.
"The opponents of this legislation could not be more wrong," he said.
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions responded by arguing that the full costs of legalization may extend beyond the 20-year window studied by the CBO.
Fellow Republican John Cornyn highlighted a different CBO conclusion: that the Senate bill will not end illegal immigration in the United States.
“Despite all the promises, and perhaps I might say the hopes and the dreams and the good intentions of the authors of this underlying bill, this bill will have only a minimal impact on illegal immigration," said Cornyn. "Does that sound like the kind of solution that we owe to the American people to solve this broken system?”
Cornyn is one of several Republicans seeking guarantees of near absolute U.S. border security before any undocumented immigrants could be legalized. Republican amendments to that end have all been defeated in the Senate.