By Karol Brown, AILA Media Committee
Discussions about immigration reform often focus on the issue of “undocumented” or “illegal” aliens. But fixing our broken immigration system is about more than the determining the fate of the estimated ten million people currently living and working and studying in the United States without papers. In the words of President Clinton, “It’s the Economy, Stupid.” Immigration reform would allow us to create a legal framework for who we want to have remain in our country, who we want to exclude, and to do so in a way that reflects our values and our interests. The bottom line, however, is that reform would benefit the bottom line. Reform would raise wages, decrease unemployment, and increase tax revenues. Who wouldn’t want that?
Currently, our immigration system hurts our nation’s economy. We want to invite investment in our economy, attract bright and talented people in our businesses, and to create a fair and level playing field for our workers. Our immigration system falls short of each of these goals.
As an immigration attorney, I have seen our policies directly hurt American businesses. Congress limits the number of highly-skilled and college-educated workers allowed into the United States from other countries. When the economy was booming in 2007 and 2008, the visas for the entire year were gone in less than one day. Even in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, our country still ran out of visas with eight months left before a new foreign worker could start.
Rather than protecting American workers, this policy hampers the creation of jobs in the US. Companies are forced to wait for months or years to hire highly talented and highly skilled candidates. Some of the world’s best and brightest college graduates are choosing jobs in Europe or Canada or Asia rather than the United States because those nation’s immigration policies provide a clearer path for either temporary work or permanent residency. Our outdated immigration policies also create incentives for outsourcing, as companies hire workers abroad that they can’t bring to the United States.
A recent study found that comprehensive immigration reform would add $1.5 trillion to our nation’s economic output over 10 years. Reform would also boost wages not only for the newly legalized workers but also for native-born employees. These higher wages would generate about $5 billion in additional tax revenue, above and beyond the cost of implementing the new policies.
In our current economic situation, we cannot afford to reject the clear benefits to our economy that immigration reform would bring us: higher wages, lower unemployment, and reduced deficits. Let’s not wait any longer.