Immigrants and economic recovery

By Michelle Chen Jan 26, 2009

While the standard nativist rhetoric denounces illegal immigration as a drain on public resources and the "legal" workforce, in times of economic crisis, the flipside of the debate–immigrants as an economic resource–may gain more traction. The William C. Velásquez Institute has published an analysis of the potential economic benefits of overhauling immigration policy. The key arguments:

"Legalization of the nation’s undocumented workers is now an economic necessity, as well as a moral and civil rights imperative. Legalization increases short-term incomes, job creating consumption and net tax revenues in the low wage segments of the labor market, as well as sets the long-term foundation for an expanding middle class and a more sustainable economic recovery…. "Movement now towards legalization and naturalization of the roughly twenty million legal permanent residents and undocumented persons would create local and state regional mini-booms in civic engagement. Furthermore, enabling civic participation of these previously excluded groups will substantially intensify public support for an inclusive and humane tenor with regard to immigration reform as well as public policies aimed at providing support to low income and socially disadvantaged socioeconomic profiles."

How does that square with the anti-immigrant meme that undocumented workers undermine wages for hardworking "natives"? The paper cites not immigration itself, but myopic policies as the catalyst of an exploitative shadow economy:

"The unintended consequences of further pursuing the current enforcement only approach include generating a vulnerable underground economy and maintaining an artificially low wage floor, actually encouraging the demand for vulnerable undocumented workers."

If Americans aren’t persuaded by ethical grounds for crafting a more just immigration system, they might want to keep this point in mind when weighing the new administration’s policy priorities and the emerging economic stimulus:

"legalizing the current estimate of 10-12 million undocumented workers would result in a net income rise of $30-36 billion, support 750,000-900,000 new jobs, and generate $4.5 to $5.4 billion in net tax revenue!"

Not a bad bonus for making our borders more humane.