AIC Disputes the Heritage Study on CIR Costs

As the Senate immigration bill gradually works its way through the system, opponents of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) are busy sowing doubts – and fears – about the putative economic costs of the measure. In particular, the path to citizenship laid out for some 11 million unauthorized immigrants has been targeted. The Heritage Foundation recently waded into the debate with a study predicting dire consequences for the taxpayers if the legalization provision goes through: they estimate it will cost $6.3 trillion over the next 50 years. [See The GOP and CIR: Pushing or Pulling Back?, MurthyBlog, 14.May.2013.]

The Heritage study has been roundly criticized by people of nearly every political stripe, who contend that its numbers are speculative, at best, or just plain wrong. In a bid to set the record straight, the American Immigration Council’s (AIC’s) Immigration Policy Center – a nonpartisan think tank in Washington – outlined the findings of several major economic studies, all of which reached the same conclusion: that immigration reform will be good for our economy:

“Broad agreement has emerged as to not only the net economic and fiscal benefits of immigration and CIR, but the acceleration of those benefits over time. Moreover, these conclusions have been arrived at in studies utilizing a variety of different methodological approaches.” [See Accurately Gauging the Economic Impact of Immigration Reform, by Raul Hinojosa Ojeda and Sherman Robinson, American Immigration Council, Immigration Policy Center, May 2013.]

Specifically, the AIC’s background paper points to several major insights gleaned from recent economic research, among them:

  • Legalizing America’s undocumented immigrants would produce an income gain of 15.1%, with an additional 10% increase for citizenship, according to a ten-year projection by Robert Lynch and Patrick Oakford, in a study published by the Center for American Progress. According to the AIC, “The results indicate that in a scenario of immediate legalization and citizenship, U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) would grow by $1.4 trillion in 10 years, while a scenario of legalization only produces a more modest $832 billion cumulative gain.”
  • Future legal immigration flows, coming through more flexible channels, will boost GDP by $1.5 to $1.8 trillion over ten years, according to studies published by the libertarian Cato Institute, one by Peter Dixon and Maureen Rimmer, the other by Raul Hinojosa Ojeda.
  • An enforcement-only approach to unauthorized immigration is extremely costly; studies by Dixon/Rimmer, and by Hinojosa Ojeda, show a ten-year drop in GDP if the U.S. were to pursue mass deportations and a zero-immigration policy.

Make no mistake about it: we do not condone illegal immigration, and we never have. In our view, the only fair path to citizenship is one that insists on clearing the backlog of lawful applicants – who got in line first – before unauthorized immigrants get their turn. Senate negotiators clearly agree, and worked hard to claim this middle ground, knowing that, without it, the entire deal would collapse – a deal this country desperately needs to bring our immigration system into line with the demands of a 21st-century economy.

Clearly, there are some in Congress who still would prefer no deal to a compromise measure that includes a path to citizenship – but as the AIC paper demonstrates, that opposition to CIR is more a product of politics than of economic reality. A better approach would be to accept that political deal making always requires compromise, and acknowledge that it won’t always be pretty. As one member of the Gang of Eight, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), quipped recently, the Senate bill has “something for everyone to hate.” True enough, but obviously there’s also much to like, and it would be preferable to the broken system that has been the status quo due to more than a decade of Washington gridlock.

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