One More Reason for Immigration Reform: To Ease the Budget Deficit

18 Apr

by Regina Cantu @

The current budget mess is one more reason why I think we should be doing something about immigration.While immigration policy did not cause the crisis, changing the policy could bring immediate reductions in government spending. And unlike most other proposed spending cuts, there would be no pain felt by every-day Americans.

There are 12 million people in this country without documentation. A portion of them are already paying taxes, but imagine if all of them did? There are 65,000 undocumented kids a year graduating from high school without a means to work and contribute to the economy.

But this idea is hardly a novel one. In 2010, before the most recent budget crisis, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Andy Stern and Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), both Democrats on the bipartisan fiscal commission, said reforms giving the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States a chance to stay in the U.S. legally could boost the economy and thereby help pay down the debt.

Becerra, a member of the House Democratic leadership and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said there’s a “credible connection” between immigration and the country’s economic situation. Millions work in an “underground economy” in which they neither pay taxes nor contribute to entitlement programs such as Social Security, he said.

If you’re thinking in terms of this fiscal commission and our efforts to try to get this budget realigned, it makes sense to consider something that could add tens of billions or hundreds of billions to the economy,” Becerra said in an interview.

Former President Bill Clinton has also backed the idea of increasing the legalization of immigrants to help the country’s fiscal situation. He was quoted at a fiscal summit in Washington saying that policy changes to ensure entitlements stay solvent and to cut deficits “will be less draconian if there’s more people in the system.”

Reform to build a more inclusive economy is not just about legalization. Even for documented immigrants barriers to economic security and opportunity are pervasive, so turning work into wealth is elusive. Immigrants tend to work in jobs without health or retirement benefits, essential elements of the “wealth escalator,” and while many of them pay taxes, they are ineligible for many public benefit programs they help to support. In addition, their daily demands, their low-wage jobs, and language barriers often make higher education prohibitive, and job-training programs to get them into living-wage jobs are often non-existent.

According to the Center for American Progress, pursuing an “enforcement-only” policy would cost us $2.6 trillion over 10 years. It’s time we look at immigration not as a problem, but an opportunity to craft a policy that both recognizes that immigrants make valuable contributions to our economy and supports their ability to do. Our budget depends on it.

I just don’t want it delayed anymore,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), who was arrested during an immigration protest last weekend outside the White House. “I think the commission should work forward. [There’s] not a problem with including it. It’s a win-win situation, both for immigrants and our economy.

When we talk about the budget, we typically fall into a narrow discussion around what to cut and what not to. But what we need to talk are larger issues about taxation and the tax base. A 2010 study by the Center for American Progress found:

legalizing the roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants through comprehensive immigration reform as well as making future flows more flexible would grow the economy by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. The stark number cuts into the credibility of claims by immigration restrictionists that immigration reform during an economic recession is implausible

There are a lot of ways to “fix” the budget. This is one feature that would benefit us all.


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