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Report: Immigration Reform Would Boost Economy

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Image: James ParksA new report shows that comprehensive immigration reform would help American workers and the U.S. economy. Reform that offers a path to citizenship for currently unauthorized workers and enforces workers’ rights would raise the “wage floor” for the entire U.S. economy and increase the total gross domestic product (GDP) by at least $1.5 trillion over the next decade, the report says.

Raising the Floor for American Workers,” by the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Center, says finding a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented workers is a much better alternative in this economic crisis than expanding guest worker programs or mass deportation.

The temporary worker program only generates an annual increase of 0.44 percent in the nation’s GDP or $792 billion over 10 years. It also leads to declining wages for newly legalized immigrant workers, the report says.

Mass deportation would reduce U.S. GDP by 1.46 percent annually or $2.6 trillion, not including the actual cost of deportation, the report adds. Wages would rise for less-skilled native-born workers, while wages for higher-skilled natives would drop. The deportations would lead to widespread job loss as well.

History bears out these findings, according to the report. The 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which provided opportunities for citizenship, was enacted during an economic recession characterized by high unemployment. Yet it helped raise wages and spurred increases in educational, home and small-business investments by newly legalized immigrants.

Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, director of the North American Integration and Development Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the report’s author, says:

This is a compelling economic reason to move away from the current “vicious cycle” where enforcement-only policies perpetuate unauthorized migration and exert downward pressure on already low wages, and toward a “virtuous cycle” of worker empowerment in which legal status and labor rights exert upward pressure on wages.

Click here to read the full report.

*This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on January 11, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris


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