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Reform pays off

Published June 21, 2013 6:05 pm

CBO says immigration a fiscal boost
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A new report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office firmly refutes any economic or fiscal case to be made against the comprehensive immigration reform bill now before the U.S. Senate. All that is left for those who oppose the Gang of Eight's bill are arguments based on xenophobia or other unreasonable fears of a future that looks different than what we imagined our past and present are like.

The scoring of the bill, S. 744, done by the officially above-the-fray CBO with colleagues from the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, estimates that the economic activity unleashed by giving legal status to millions of immigrants who now live and work here without documentation, plus the millions more who could be legally admitted, would actually reduce the federal deficit by close to $900 billion between now and the year 2033.

That's a big guess that involves a lot of assumptions. But the major theory expressed by the report seems sound: The labor provided by the legalization of so many workers will not only boost the economy, as it creates demand and yet more jobs, it would also increase federal revenues by much more than it will cost the taxpayers in additional services.

If anything, say some other experts, the report may actually underestimate the economic benefits of immigration reform because it focuses, reasonably, on the impact to the federal budget and ignores the multiplier effect that comes with any increase in economic activity.

The CBO says that most of the new workers who will come to the United States, or come out of the underground economy, will not compete with native-born workers so much as they will with other immigrants, those with few skills or those with special skills, such as those demanded by agricultural operations. There may be a small downward pressure on wages for those already at the bottom of the economic totem poll, says the report, but it will be temporary.

If nothing else, the report should make it harder for many Republicans, those who never seem to have any sympathy for the poor when they are voting on budgets, taxes, unemployment insurance or food stamps, to claim their opposition to reform is based on concern for low-income workers.

Utah's Sen. Orrin Hatch, like many other Republicans, seems to be seeking as much political cover as possible before committing to voting for the measure. (Sen. Mike Lee, opposed to any reform that puts immigrants in line for legal status and eventual citizenship, is a lost cause.)

This report should be a very large step in the right direction.