Tag: illegal immigrants

Path to Citizenship vs. Legalization: Let the Immigrants Choose

Representative Goodlatte (R-VA) is working toward a compromise on legalization and a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.  This issue is the current bottleneck in the immigration reform debate.  Many Republican, Goodlatte included, are skeptical of a path to citizenship for current unauthorized immigrants.  Many Democrats, however, will not support immigration reform unless some unauthorized immigrants are allowed to become citizens eventually.  Could this impasse make immigration reform impossible this year?

Goodlatte’s proposal, as far as we know, would be to grant unauthorized immigrants provisional legal status.  They would then be legally allowed to work and live here but only eligible for a green card or citizenship if they use the existing immigration system.  This proposal would shrink the number of unauthorized immigration who could eventually earn a green card or gain citizenship.

I suggest a third proposal: create two paths toward legal status.

The first path should lead to permanent legal status on a work permit that cannot be used to earn a green card unless the person marries an American or serves in the military (other categories should be considered too).  This path could be relatively easy and cheap, preferably a few hundred dollars to pay for the paperwork processing fee as well as criminal, national security, and health checks.

The second path should be toward a green card and eventual citizenship.  It should probably be similar to the Senate plan, take many years, and cost more money.  This should be the more difficult legalization process but it should not be any more difficult than what is included in the Senate bill.

Creating two paths will allow the unauthorized immigrants themselves to choose the type of legal status they wish to have in the United States.  This also addresses some of the concerns of immigration reform skeptics while actually allowing a path to citizenship that, theoretically, most unauthorized immigrants could follow.  Furthermore, this plan is probably more politically feasible than a one sized fits all path to legal status.  The sooner a reform is passes, the sooner the deportations can stop.

Currently every interest group involved in immigration reform is trying to choose which legal status unauthorized immigrants should have.  The unauthorized immigrant should instead be able to choose for themselves.  Ever more complex legalization and path to citizenship plans of the type Goodlatte will propose will not accommodate most of the 11-12 million unauthorized immigrants here.  Several paths toward legal status should be created and the unauthorized immigrants should be allowed to choose for themselves.

Immigration Illusions Part Two: Rector and Richwine Rediscover Budget Deficits

A recent paper by Robert Rector and Jason Richwine  (“The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer”) went to a lot of unnecessary trouble to estimate that governments at all levels spent $54.5 billion more on services and benefits to households headed by unlawful immigrants (which includes children and spouses who are citizens) than was collected in taxes from them in 2010.  

It is hardly shocking to learn that federal, state, and local governments spent more on unlawful immigrants than they received in taxes, since governments spent more on nearly everyone than they received in taxes. That is what happens when governments run big budget deficits.  

Spending by federal state and local governments exceeded revenues by $1,342.6 billion in 2010—a conspicuously grander figure than the mere $54.5 billion Rector and Richwine attribute to unlawful immigration.  

For researchers to discover that unlawful immigrants, like most of us, did not pay enough taxes in 2010 to cover government spending was remarkably unenlightening. The paper is even less informative about the future, because (1) it ignores the fact that the Senate bill’s reduced restrictions on legal immigration would reduce the incentive for future illegal immigration, and (2) it ignores economic effects of a larger labor force in raising long-run economic growth

Obama Administration Adopts De Facto Dream Act

Two senior Obama administration officials told the Associated Press that the administration will enforce many of the major portions of the Dream Act using the president’s administrative discretion to defer deportation actions.  According to a memo released by the Department of Homeland Security this morning, the plan would apply to unauthorized immigrants who:

  • Came to the United States under the age of 16.
  • Have continuously resided in the United States for a least five years preceding the date of the memorandum and are present in the United States on the date of the memorandum.
  • Are currently in school, have graduated from high school, have obtained a general education development certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States.
  • Have not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise poses a threat to national security or public safety.
  • Are not above the age of 30.

If the above plan is implemented fully, between 800,000 and 2.1 million unauthorized immigrants could be legalized for up to two years.  By being legalized they will become more productive, earn higher wages, and more fully assimilate into American society.  But this is only a temporary fix.

Temporary work permits can be issued to unauthorized immigrants who have their deportations deferred but in this situation they would only last 2 years.  It’s a routine administrative procedure that already occurs for unauthorized immigrants who have their deportations deferred.  This is one situation where the complexity of our immigration rules and regulations works to the advantage of immigrants and Americans.

A permanent version of this action in the form of the admittedly imperfect Dream Act would need to be passed to reap the full rewards.

The benefits from passing the Dream Act are enormous.  Evidence from the 1986 amnesty showed that the legalized immigrants experienced a 15.1 percent increase in their earnings by 1992, with roughly 6 to 13 percentage points due to the legalization.

In the Winter 2012 issue of The Cato Journal, Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda estimated that an amnesty similar to 1986 would yield at least an added $1.5 trillion to GDP over a single decade.  If 2.1 million eligible unauthorized immigrants were permanently legalized, that would be at least $250 billion in additional production over the next decade (back of the envelope calculation).

However, before we get too thrilled about the prospects of this sorely needed temporary liberalization, we should remember that hardly anything changed the last time the Obama administration used its prosecutorial discretion to review deportation cases.  His administration promised to wade through backlogged cases and close those where the unauthorized immigrants had strong American family ties and no criminal records.  Since that policy went into effect in November 2011, DHS officials have reviewed more than 411,000 cases and less than 2 percent of them were closed.

If the administration’s proposal temporarily goes as far as the Dream Act would, it will shrink the informal economy, increase economic efficiency, and remove the fear and uncertainty of deportation from potentially millions of otherwise law-abiding people.  It would be a good first step toward reforming immigration and a glimpse at what the Dream Act would do.

Gov. Perry and Those DREAM Act Kids

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been beaten up in recent GOP presidential primary debates over his signing of a bill in 2001 giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrant kids in Texas. Look for the issue to come up again at tonight’s debate in New Hampshire.

In a free society, so-called DREAM Act legislation would be unnecessary. Opportunities for legal immigration would be open wide enough that illegal immigration would decline dramatically. And higher education would be provided in a competitive market without state and federal subsidies. But that is not yet the world we live in.

On the federal level, the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would offer permanent legal status to illegal immigrant children who graduate from high school and then complete at least two years of college or serve in the U.S. military. Legal status would allow them to qualify for in-state tuition in the states where they reside, and would eventually lead to citizenship.

Those who respond that such a law would amount to “amnesty” for illegal immigrants should keep a couple of points in mind.

First, kids eligible under the DREAM Act came to the United States when they were still minors, many of them at a very young age. They were only obeying their parents, something we should generally encourage young children to do.

Second, these kids are a low-risk, high-return bet for legalization. Because they came of age in the United States, they are almost all fluent in English and identify with America as their home (for many the only one they have ever known). “Assimilation” will not be an issue.

They also represent future workers and taxpayers. The definitive 1997 study on immigration by the National Research Council, The New Americans, determined that an immigrant with some college education represents a large fiscal gain for government at all levels. Over his or her lifetime, such an immigrant will pay $105,000 more in taxes than he or she consumes in government services, on average and expressed in net present value (see p. 334). In other words, legalizing an immigrant with post-secondary education is equivalent to paying off $105,000 in government debt.

According to estimates by the Immigration Policy Center, the DREAM Act as introduced in 2009 would offer immediate legalization to 114,000 young illegal immigrants who have already earned the equivalent of an associate’s degree. Another 612,000 who have already graduated from high school would be eligible for provisional status and would then have a strong incentive to further their education at the college level to gain permanent status. If all 726,000 of them studied at college and became legal permanent residents, it would be equivalent to retiring $76 billion of government debt.

In all, a potential 2.1 million kids could eventually be eligible for permanent legal residency under terms of the DREAM Act, representing a potential fiscal windfall to the government of more than $200 billion. Not to mention their potential contributions to our culture and economy.

The Consequences of Our War on Low-Skilled Immigrant Labor

Credit: Chiapas state government website

Authorities in Mexico intercepted two semi-trucks on Tuesday containing more than 500 migrants being smuggled across the border from Guatemala and presumably headed for the United States. An x-ray of one of the trucks that revealed the migrants struck me for its resemblance to those 18th century woodcarvings of slave ships crossing the Atlantic.

That analogy shouldn’t be taken too far, of course. According to the news reports, the migrants voluntarily paid $7,000 each for the chance to be smuggled into the United States. But like the slave ships, the conditions in the trucks were horrific, putting the lives of the men, women and some children in real danger.

People across the spectrum will try to make hay from this, but to me it argues that the status quo is unacceptable. No respectable party is in favor of illegal immigration. The real debate is over how to reduce it and all the underground pathologies that accompany it.

We can continue to ramp up border and interior enforcement, as we have relentlessly for more than a decade, driving low-skilled migrants further underground while driving smuggling fees higher and higher. Or we can expand opportunities for legal entry into the United States, and by doing so shrink the underground network of smuggling and document fraud.

Like the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, real immigration reform would go a long way to eliminating the human bootlegging that was exposed in Mexico this week. A robust temporary worker program would allow foreign-born workers to enter the country in a safe, orderly, and legal way through established ports of entry. It would allow resources now going to smugglers to be collected as fees by our government and otherwise put to work in our economy. It would save the lives of hundreds of people who needlessly die each year trying to re-locate for a better job.

If Congress enacted the kind of immigration reform we have long advocated in my department at Cato, our economy would be stronger and the human smuggling networks a lot less busy.

Responding to Critics of Immigration Reform

President Obama is making his first visit to the U.S.-Mexican border today to deliver a speech in El Paso, Texas, on the need to reform America’s immigration laws. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the president’s plan, but in the meantime, the Cato Institute has released a new study this week that examines the major objections to comprehensive immigration reform.

Titled “Answering the Critics of Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” and authored by Cato adjunct scholar Stuart Anderson, the new study draws on the latest research to address five common objections to expanding opportunities for legal immigration. The issues addressed in the study include the effect of immigration reform on government spending, welfare use, culture and language, unemployment, and incentives for illegal immigration.

After carefully weighing all those concerns, the study concludes that the arguments continue to weigh heavily in favor of expanding legal immigration as the best way to reduce illegal immigration. Here is the study’s conclusion:

The status quo is not acceptable. There is no evidence that continuing—or expanding—the current “enforcement-only” policies on immigration will be successful. The best approach is to harness the power of the market to allow workers to fill jobs legally, rather than to rely on human smuggling operations for workers to enter the United States. Addressing the situation of those now in the country illegally will achieve both humanitarian and economic objectives, including raising the wages of those now working as illegal immigrants. The primary arguments employed against comprehensive immigration reform do not stand up to a review of recent history and predictable social and economic behavior.

Here is the short-form Cato blueprint for immigration reform, and here is the long-form version (PDF).

Will Republicans Come to Grips With Immigration?

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Given President Obama’s speech today in El Paso, Texas, is immigration a winning issue for Democrats?

My response:

Immigration will be a winning issue for Democrats only if Republicans allow it, which they’re quite capable of doing. Where’s the anti-immigrant part of the Republican base going to go — to the Democrats? Hardly. With so much else at stake, will they sit out the 2012 elections, over this one issue? Please.

If Republicans play it right, this can be a winner. No one seriously believes that the estimated 10 to 12 million illegal immigrants in the country, most working, can or should be sent back to their countries of origin. So the main issues are paving the way to legalization, better securing the borders, and providing for a rational guest worker program. If Republicans got behind a package like that, immigration would cease to be a Democratic issue. This isn’t rocket science.