Trade Briefing Paper No. 32

Answering the Critics of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Comprehensive immigration reform is defined by supporters as legislation that would reduce illegal immigration in the future and address the legal status of a large percentage of those now in the country illegally. The best approach for advocates of such reform is to take seriously the arguments of critics, explain why these arguments are incorrect and, if necessary, adapt legislation to address the concerns raised.

Argument #1: “Immigration reform will harm taxpayers.” Response: Legalizing both the flow of workers and the workers already here will help taxpayers by raising the newly legalized workers’ productivity, their earnings, and the likelihood that they will pay taxes in the formal economy.

Argument #2: “Newly legalized immigrants will burden the welfare rolls.” Response: Immigrants are not heavy users of welfare, and additional limits can be placed on legalized workers. Newly arriving immigrants to the United States are generally not eligible for federal meanstested benefits programs.

Argument #3: “Another ‘amnesty’ will beget more amnesties.” Response: Legalization is not necessarily an “amnesty”; it can include fines and other conditions for legalization. The 1986 law failed because it did not include a well-designed temporary worker visa system.

Argument #4: “Legalizing or admitting more unskilled workers will undermine U.S. culture and the English language.” Response: Immigrants and the children of immigrants are learning English.

Argument #5: “Letting in more temporary visa holders and legalizing current illegal immigrants will increase the unemployment rate.” Response: Immigrants make Americans more productive and do not increase the unemployment rate.

The primary arguments employed against comprehensive immigration reform do not stand up to a review of recent history and predictable social and economic behavior.

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Stuart Anderson is an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, and the author of Immigration (2010).