Indian-Americans know that for the past several years failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation has blocked other changes to U.S. immigration law. Smaller, more targeted measures to fix problems associated with employment and family immigration, including reducing the large backlogs, have not see light of day to due to the inability to pass large-scale immigration legislation. Important measures on employer-sponsored green cards were part of a 2006 immigration reform bill that passed the Senate but failed to become law after opposition from House Republicans.
What are the main arguments against comprehensive immigration reform? And are there good responses to those arguments? I recently addressed the five main arguments offered against comprehensive immigration reform in a paper for the Cato Institute. (The study can be found here.)
1) Immigration Reform Will Not Harm Taxpayers. The paper notes that legalizing both the flow of workers and those already in the country without legal status will help taxpayers by raising the newly legalized workers’ earnings, productivity, and the likelihood they will pay taxes. Columbia University economist Francisco L. Rivera-Batiz found that illegal immigrants who received legal status under 1986 legislation received “significantly” higher wages once they became legal. (Higher wages equals higher taxes.) Peter Dixon and Maureen Rimmer, both with Monash University in Australia, found compared to more increases in border enforcement, using legal temporary workers to replace the flow of illegal immigrants would benefit U.S. households by $260 billion a year.
2) Newly Legalized workers will not burden the welfare rolls. In general, newly arriving immigrants are not heavy users of welfare and, in fact, are usually not eligible for federal means-tested programs. In 2006, according to the House Ways and Means Committee, only 0.7 percent of noncitizen used TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Much use of benefits declined for immigrants after eligibility rules changed in the 1996 welfare reform law, though even before the changes immigrant welfare use tended to be overstated. It’s true U.S.-born children of immigrants may receive more benefits than their immigrant parents. However, the comparisons of who is a net taxpayer can be misleading if one counts native-born children of immigrants as (immigration) costs when they are young but then fails to count them as tax contributors once they reach adulthood.
3) Another amnesty need not beget more amnesties. If Congress legalizes the status of individuals here unlawfully it does not need to be an amnesty, which usually requires little or no action on the part of the recipient. Instead, Congress can impose a series of conditions for that forgiveness, including fines and future obligations.
4) Legalizing or admitting less-skilled workers will not undermine U.S. culture or the English language. Immigrants and their children are learning English. A total of 91 percent of second-generation Hispanic immigrants (the children of immigrants) said they speak English “well” or “pretty well,” which rises to 97 percent by the third generation.
5) Allowing in more temporary visa holders or legalizing existing workers without legal status will not increase the unemployment rate. Immigrants help make Americans more productive, while having no impact on the unemployment rate. As economists like Mark J. Perry, a professor at the University of Michigan, Flint campus, point out, there is no fixed number of jobs, so there is no way for immigrants to “take away jobs from Americans.” There is no evidence unemployment rates rise over time at either the state or national level simply because additional people enter the labor force, whether immigrants or recent graduates from U.S. schools or colleges.
These are not popular arguments to make in a climate when economic recovery remains incomplete in America. And the strongest opponents of immigration reform will not likely be persuaded. However, those who support a better solution than the status quo will need to continue the debate and responding to critics. Otherwise, other problems, such as the need to add more green cards for skilled immigrants, may never be addressed in a Washington, D.C. that remains divided on immigration issues.