Posted by on March 22, 2013 in Blog

By Jade Zoghbi

Spring 2013 Intern

“They take our jobs, bear too many children, don’t speak our language, abuse the welfare system, and don’t pay taxes.” These are among the statements hastily expressed by American citizens toward immigrants. It’s unfortunate that these words create distance and fear among people. Perhaps, the economics of immigration reform will validate the positive impact of granting the 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the US a path to citizenship.

However, time is of the essence in the equation. The time for the Gang of 8 in the Senate and Obama to push and actualize comprehensive immigration reform is now.

According to the Center for American Progress (CAP), a recent study explored the impact of changing the immigration status of millions of Americans, and the effect the reform would have on the economy. The findings indicate that granting legal status and citizenship to undocumented immigrants has a substantial positive relationship to the economy’s recovery.

At the March 20th panel, Robert Lynch, a co-author of the CAP report presented four scenarios of immigration status to communicate how each would affect the economy. These included 1) Granting immediate citizenship, 2) Granting legal status and citizenship following after five years, 3) Postponing citizenship and granting legal status for ten years, and 4) No reform.

"These unauthorized immigrants are currently earning far less than their potential, paying much less in taxes, and contributing significantly less to the U.S. economy than they potentially could,” authors Robert Lynch and Patrick Oakford assert in their study.

The potential wealth trapped within these individuals was communicated by Lynch. This wealth could translate into a $1.1 trillion cumulative GDP increase for the economy, a cumulative increase in the income of all Americans by $618 billion and an addition of 159,000 jobs to the economy annually.

And reform would lead to better benefits for former undocumented workers, such as access to better legal protection, an increase in bargain power, protection of employment rights, and access to high paying jobs.

Georgetown Public Policy professor Adriana Kugler highlighted that immigration reform is particularly vital for women who tend to be at the lowest end of the economic spectrum. She also emphasized the importance of the public sector in allowing women to apply for jobs – where currently the majority of those opportunities, including holding political office, require citizenship.

Also featured in the panel, Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, emphasized the timing of immigration reform. “This is precisely the time to generate jobs… We are in a crisis in the labor market and we’ll be there for a while,” she said.

An overwhelming majority of academic reports and minds have proven the wealth in immigration reform. It is time to keep skilled immigrants in the economy, to critically assess the long-term impact for all Americans, and learn about those often judged on a superficial basis, who will affect the name of America’s economic citizenship.

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