Billionaires Propose Billion-Dollar Solutions to Immigration Reform
This week, the immigration debate turned toward the economy, as politicians and business leaders joined the fray to tout the economic benefits of immigration reform. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Fox mogul Rupert Murdoch testified yesterday for the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law on the dollars and cents of reforming our immigration system.
Bloomberg and Murdoch recently co-founded the Partnership for A New American Economy, a group of mayors and CEOs dedicated to making the economic case for immigration reform that comprises legalization, visa reforms and other measures. In his remarks to the Committee, Bloomberg said: “We’re urging members of both parties to help us shift the debate away from emotions and towards economics – because the economics couldn’t be any clearer."
Immigrants—including undocumented immigrants—make critical contributions to our economy, from the goods and services they produce to the tax dollars and consumer spending they generate. A representative from the Greater Houston Partnership, a leading business association, urged the Committee to move beyond the rhetoric and look at the facts. He said undocumented workers contributed an estimated $27.3 billion to Houston’s Gross Regional Product. Congress needs to take bold action to ensure our immigration policy is grounded in this economic reality, starting with immigration reform that legalizes undocumented immigrants. A study from the libertarian CATO Institute concludes that this could yield $180 billion by 2019. Legal immigrants and native-born Americans alike should support a solution that brings undocumented workers out of the underground economy and allows them to more fully contribute to economic recovery. With legal status, currently undocumented workers would earn higher wages, and by extension, spend more: the Center for American Progress finds that this spending could support 750,000 to 900,000 jobs and add $4.5 billion to $5.4 billion to our economy.
We can’t afford to let partisanship obstruct the economic gains to be made from comprehensive immigration reform. It seems many members of Congress have their blinders on when it comes to this issue, preferring to stick to tired talking points rather than engage meaningfully with the facts. During the hearing, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and others were determined to stick to the party line, calling for increased border security and interior enforcement, and flatly rejecting any earned legalization proposal. And earlier this week, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced an enforcement-only bill that would do nothing to address the problems plaguing our immigration system. But the federal government has steadily expanded immigration enforcement spending, while the undocumented population until the recession has continued to grow.
Hatch’s bill followed a broader piece of legislation introduced in the Senate by Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2010, which includes a legalization program, employment and family-based visa reforms along with interior, border and worksite immigration enforcement. The bill is an excellent starting point for an immigration reform driven by the needs of our economy. As Ezra Klein puts it in a recent Washington Post column, “Immigration policy is economic policy and needs to be thought of as such.” When Congress reconvenes after the midterm elections, let’s hope its members see it that way and return ready to engage with immigration solutions that will move us toward a stronger economy.