Miami Herald | EDITORIAL

Economic impact of immigration reform a plus

Advocates of providing a road to citizenship for undocumented immigrants — however long and winding that road might be — have spent years making the moral argument, the humane argument, the practical argument against separating parents here illegally from their American-born children or shipping 11 million souls back across the border or over an ocean.

But supporters making the economic argument in favor of rigorous, but compassionate, reform got the biggest boost yet last week. The Congressional Budget Office released a report that projects if Senate Bill 744 were enacted, changes in direct spending and revenues “would decrease federal budget deficits by $197 billion over the 2014-2023 period.”

The CBO also estimates that the legislation would result in discretionary costs of $22 billion during that same period. This would lead to a net savings of about $175 billion between 2014 and 2023. No matter how robust the U.S. economy — and it’s not right now — $175 billion is not chump change. Over the following decade, the CBO estimates that savings could reach $700 billion. For fiscal year 2014 alone, the federal budget deficit is expected to be $744 billion.

The Senate is deep in debate over the Gang of Eight’s voluminous immigration proposal. Yes, it’s flawed. It denies same-sex immigrant couples the same opportunities to gain legal status here, and citizenship waiting periods are exhaustingly long. But there is so much at stake that none of the bill’s deficiencies should be deemed fatal.

The CBO report helps kick the legs out from under opponents’ contention that native-born American workers are going to be hurt by giving undocumented immigrants status in this country. But it doesn’t mean that they’re not trying mightily to keep their argument from tipping over and crashing to the ground. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R., Ala., contends that the impact of the increase on the labor force will “be harshest for today’s low-income Americans.”

This is a shortsighted view to the enduring problem of having millions living in the shadows.

The bill would, first and foremost, increase the size of the labor force and employment. More labor, more taxes paid, more revenue to whittle down the debt. The CBO projects that average wages would be one-tenth of 1 percent lower in 2023, but half a percent higher in 2033 than under current immigration laws.

However, according to the CBO, the wage numbers do not necessarily mean that current U.S. residents would be any worse off. Rather, the CBO’s initial analysis found that most newly legal immigrants would be competing with other immigrants already working in low-wage, low-skill jobs, not necessarily depressing the wages of native-born Americans. In addition, it projects that wages will increase across the board in 2025 and beyond.

The CBO, created in 1974 to provide economic data to Congress, is nonpartisan. The report’s conclusion leaves little doubt that, over the long haul, immigration reform not only will benefit the estimated 11 million people in this country without legal status.

It will also make this country a stronger, more cohesive economic power.

That leaves the foes of reform with little but fear tactics and shouts of “border security first!” to rely on, and even those are gaining less traction as surveys confirm that a majority of Americans support a path to citizenship for the undocumented.

The numbers add up. There’s no good reason to botch reform again.

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