Help us? Hurt us? Regardless, it needs to be done. Here’s one more voice in the debate:
As the U.S. unemployment rate hovers at around 10 percent, a key question is emerging in the unfolding immigration reform debate: whether legalizing millions of undocumented immigrants will further erode the economy or speed its recovery. The answer is hard to pin down because of clashing conclusions in recently issued reports.
One study released Thursday and endorsed by pro-immigration groups said legalization would boost the economy. But a report issued in December by an organization that seeks tighter immigration controls said less-educated native U.S. workers will find it more difficult to land jobs if illegal foreign workers are given green cards.
The issue could set back immigration reform once again if the public perceives undocumented immigrants as a threat to workers who are citizens or legal residents.
That’s not going to happen, some immigrant rights advocates claim, because most people support immigration reform. America’s Voice, a pro-immigration group in Washington, released updated poll data Monday showing that even in a down economy a majority of surveyed voters support immigration reform.
According to the data, 55 percent of 800 polled voters agreed with the statement that the economic crisis “makes it more crucial than ever” that Congress deal with immigration reform vs. 42 percent who said this is not the right time for the issue.
U.S. Roman Catholic Church leaders set the stage for the economic dimension of the debate when they told a news conference in Washington Wednesday that those who argue against legalization because of unemployment are wrong.
“It’s a red herring to say immigrants are going to take jobs,” said John C. Wester, bishop of Salt Lake City and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committee on migration.
The question got a fuller airing Thursday when the Washington immigrant advocacy groups Center for American Progress and Immigration Policy Center highlighted the findings of a new report claiming that legalization would promote prosperity.
“We estimate that comprehensive immigration reform would yield at least $1.5 trillion in added U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years,” the report, Raising the Floor for American Workers, said.
The report’s author, Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, director of the North American Integration and Development Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, said his research was based on the impact on the U.S. economy of the previous legalization in 1986 and was known as Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA).
That measure granted legal status to 1.7 million undocumented immigrants through a general legalization program, as well as to another 1.3 million people through a special agricultural workers program.
“Even though IRCA was implemented during an economic recession characterized by high unemployment,” Hinojosa-Ojeda wrote, “studies of immigrants who benefited from the general legalization program indicate that they soon earned higher wages and moved on to better jobs and invested more in their own education so that they could earn even higher wages and get even better jobs.”
But a report issued this month by the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which backs tighter immigration controls, said many of the immigrants who legalized their status under IRCA did so fraudulently.
Another report from the same group, released in December, said less-educated unemployed and underemployed U.S. workers likely will have a tougher time finding a job if undocumented workers are legalized.