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Experts Debate Economic Impact of US Immigration Reform

Experts Debate Economic Impact of US Immigration Reformi
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February 21, 2014
Despite near unanimous agreement that the U.S. immigration system is broken, it appears doubtful that Congress will take up the issue this year. Some say lawmakers are missing the bigger point that immigration reform is not a political issue but an economic one. Mil Arcega has more.
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— Despite near unanimous agreement that the U.S. immigration system is broken, it appears doubtful that Congress will take up the issue this year.  Republicans say they don’t trust the president to enforce new rules - a charge many Democrats says is simply a political excuse to deny a Democratic president a legislative victory in an election year.  But some say lawmakers are missing the bigger point that immigration reform is not a political issue but an economic one.

Experts said communities paid a heavy price when 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the shadows.  And for a country that prides itself in its humanitarian beliefs - fixing a broken immigration system should be a high priority. 

“I think that each day that Congress delays this decision people are getting hurt, are getting hurt by the deportation machine, that is as I said before, separating families every day," said Guillermo Cantor, a senior analyst at the Immigration Policy Center.

Cantor said there were other reasons why Congress should act.

“And one of them that sometimes gets overlooked is that it would result in enormous economic benefits for this country,” he said.

But critics of immigration reform said the government’s own studies suggested otherwise. 

Republican Senator Jeff Sessions said, “How can we vote for a bill that our own Congressional Budget Office says will reduce average wages in America for 12 years?”

Sessions is only half right.  The CBO report said reforms would reduce average wages one-tenth of one percent (0.1 percent) by 2023 but that's because the estimate included wages from lower-skilled workers who would become legal residents.  After 10 years, the report said wages would rise about half of a percent, more than they would without reforms.

But that's just part of the story said Marc Rosenberg at the Migration Policy Institute 

“Legalization is probably going to help the U.S. economy.  It’s also going to bring more people into the tax system, so it probably has a net fiscal benefit of people paying more taxes," he said. "In the long run however, unauthorized immigrants who become legal will also be eligible for additional services, so the fiscal impact has pluses and minuses.”

As it stands, the Center for Immigration Studies said the negatives outweighed the positives. 

Spokesperson Marguerite Telford said their studies showed economic gains -- quickly diminished by the larger demand for social programs.

She said, “and when you look at 36 percent of immigrants are on at least one welfare program and you look at how much it’s costing, you know, how long can we keep affording it?,"

With so many Americans looking for work, Telford said annual admissions of about 1.1 million legal immigrants were too generous and should be cut in half.

One solution is to take a more selective approach to immigration. Chinese student Ting Gong said expanding work permit programs for foreign students, who graduated from American universities, was an excellent place to start.

“Because you know the students who work here are highly educated and we can contribute our skills and everything to this country” Ting said.

Despite disagreement on how, the majority of economists agree reforms would expand the U.S. economy.  Critics said it did so at a heavy price - while others said the cost of doing nothing - would be worse.

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