Comprehensive immigration reform makes good economic sense

by Andrew Mack and Barbara Goldberg Goldman

The Jewish community’s support for comprehensive immigration reform is often—and quite rightly—attributed to the teachings of the Hebrew Bible: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord and your God” (Lev. 19: 33–34).

But, immigration reform also makes considerable economic sense. As Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity puts it, “Immigrants contribute to the U.S. economy and create wealth.” Today, there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country. According to some estimates, legalizing their status and freeing them to work, pay taxes and invest in America’s future will put as much as $832 billion dollars into the economy over the next ten years.

Immigration reform would have a potent impact in our own backyard. According to a recent report from American Action Network, the Maryland congressional districts of Reps. Hoyer, Van Hollen, and Delaney would see at least 48,387 new jobs.  In Virginia, the districts of Reps. Connelly, Moran, Wolf, and Goodlatte would have 60,206 new jobs, and Rep. Eric Cantor’s district alone would add 14,854 jobs.

The Center for American Progress reports that Maryland and Virginia would gain significantly from immigration reform, with a path to citizenship. The gross state product of Maryland would increase by $23.8 billion over ten years, with a cumulative increase of $15.6 billion in the earnings of state residents over the same period.  The  gross state product in Virginia would rise by $16.3 billion over ten years, and the cumulative earnings of all state residents would go up by $9.6 billion over the same period.

Furthermore, the impact on Social Security and Medicare in both Maryland and Virginia would be massive. Over the next 36 years, legalizing immigrants will translate into trillions of dollars in contributions to both states’ Social Security systems with hundreds of billions of dollars in benefits received, and hundreds of billions of dollars in net contributions to the Social Security system. Millions of American retirees would be supported.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office agrees that comprehensive immigration reform will also help the economy by significantly increasing the tax contributions of immigrants. By providing a path to earned citizenship, our tax base would broaden by $48 billion and produce a surplus of $25 billion. Family reunification would also help, since research has shown that immigrants are more likely to start their own businesses, contribute to the economy and become active participants in society when they are living with family members.

We must also bear in mind that the manual labor of immigrant farm workers, construction workers and caretakers helps to keep down the cost of food, construction, eldercare and childcare for all of us. And, any costs associated with these lesser-skilled immigrants are significantly offset by the broader benefits to the overall economy and the significant economic contributions to come from second and third generations.

With the encouragement of business, labor, and the faith-based and law-enforcement communities, the Senate passed S.744. We must make sure that the House follows suit. S.744 will promote respect for the rule of law and protect our national security, while strengthening America’s global competitiveness.  It will promote our values by uniting families and strengthening our communities.

We live in an era of budget shortfalls, a time when our bridges and roads need repair and our schools need investment. We need young and dynamic people paying into the system. The numbers are clear: Failure to act on immigration reform is costing us money each day. Conservative, liberal and libertarian experts agree that meaningful immigration reform now will pay economic dividends for generations to come. The time for immigration reform is now!

Andrew Mack and Barbara Goldberg Goldman co-chair the AJC Washington Regional Office’s Immigration Task Force

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