In recent weeks, there has been notable GOP floundering on the issue of creating a road map to citizenship as part of an overall immigration policy bill. From Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, who both struck a vague position on the issue, to those like Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who has previously come out in support of a legalization program without a citizenship option, Republicans are struggling to find a coherent position on their level of support for citizenship for 11 million new American immigrants.
The Senate “Gang of Eight” is set to release its bill for immigration policy in April, and there is much speculation as to what kind of legalization program it will contain and how its language will change when the bill goes through subsequent congressional negotiations. As the issue heats up with the spring and summer months, lawmakers should put politics aside and consider what would actually be the best option for working families in this country.
We’ve described here before the importance of a citizenship program in creating a commonsense immigration process for both workers’ rights and the economy. Yesterday, the Center for American Progress released a report, The Economic Effects of Granting Legal Status and Citizenship to Undocumented Immigrants, which further underscores the economic benefits such a policy would bring to the United States.
The authors of the report, Robert Lynch and Patrick Oakford, found that:
[L]egal status and a road map to citizenship for the unauthorized will bring about significant economic gains in terms of growth, earnings, tax revenues, and jobs—all of which will not occur in the absence of immigration reform or with reform that creates a permanent sub-citizen class of residents...the timing of reform matters: The sooner we provide legal status and citizenship, the greater the economic benefits are for the nation.
Because citizenship allows immigrants more opportunities in both the private and public sector, there are major economic gains to be had for the entire country. When millions of workers can come out of exploitative employment relations and seek more positive outcomes, all of society benefits from their increased consumption, investment and training. Importantly, many of these increases—especially in wages—come from the increased bargaining power, labor mobility and legal protections immigrant workers gain once they achieve legal status and citizenship.
As Lynch and Oakford show, the timing is important, too. The authors went into four different hypothetical policy scenarios for creating a commonsense immigration process—ranging from no reform to immediate legalization with citizenship (not a likely outcome, but useful for comparative purposes)—and their economic impact over 10 years on GDP, income, tax revenue, the earnings of immigrant workers and jobs. Not surprisingly, as seen in the graph below, no reform and legalization without a citizenship option led to significantly fewer economic gains than legal status with a five-year waiting period, and even fewer than immediate legalization and a citizenship option.
Center for American Progress, The Economic Effects of Granting Legal Status and Citizenship to Undocumented Immigrants, p. 3.
Too often, lawmakers play political games with our economic future. If Congress is serious about creating a commonsense immigration process that both reflects our values as a country and improves the economy in this time of crisis, they must allow immigrant families to have the full rights and equal protections that comes with citizenship.