Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Immigration Reform Would Lift Immigrant Families Out of Poverty, Benefit Nation

By Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, MSpS

In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), the last law in this country that provided legal status and citizenship to undocumented immigrants. Although decried by some as a failure, a positive side-effect of the law was the impact it had on wages and upward economic mobility of immigrant workers.

To explain, the wages for undocumented workers who gained legal status under IRCA increased 15 percent in the five years after it was enacted. Why? Because these newly legalized workers were better able to assert their rights in the workplace, all employers were forced to play by the same rules and pay them a competitive wage.

Over the long-term, the IRCA legalization led to a reduction of poverty among immigrant communities, as beneficiaries garnered education and skills and obtained higher paying jobs. For example, 27 percent of IRCA immigrants age 16 to 24 lived below the federal poverty line in 1990; by 2006, only 15 percent lived below the poverty line.

Passage of immigration reform in 2014 likely would have the same impact. Because of their lack of legal status, approximately 20 percent of undocumented workers (and their families) in low-skilled industries today live below the poverty line. A University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) study showed that for the three years following a legalization program, undocumented workers would experience an increase in net income of $30 to $36 billion. This would have benefits for all U.S. citizens because it would generate $4.5 to $5.4 billion in tax revenues and consumer spending sufficient to support nearly 900,000 jobs.

Immigration reform legislation also would help reduce the U.S. government’s deficit. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), enactment of S. 744, immigration reform legislation passed by the U.S. Senate, would reduce the federal deficit by $158 billion by 2023, due to increased tax revenue and economic activity.

Immigration reform is a win-win for both immigrant workers and their families and U.S. citizens. Keeping undocumented workers in the shadows limits their ability to fully contribute to our economy and prevents them from climbing out of poverty. This harms the whole community, as immigrants and their children – the future leaders of our nation – miss the opportunity to reach their full God-given potential.

Bringing them out of the shadows would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain an education, start businesses, and create jobs, a long-term economic benefit to our nation. More importantly, it would allow them to live in dignity, as full members of our nation.

As our elected officials consider immigration reform, they would be wise to include a path to citizenship, so that undocumented immigrant workers can help grow the future economy and benefit all Americans.


Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, MSpS, a member of the Missionaries of the Holy Spirit, is auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Migration.



Vocella Dieferin said...

Immigration reform is a must, however it must first be tempered with safety of the nation in mind including international criminal and terrorism background checks. No stone must be left unturned if legal permanent residency or citizenship is to be granted.

Lance said...

Let’s face it, this immigration thing is a 20th century issue that has slopped over into the 21st century. The time has come to finally resolve it in an intelligent fashion, as three-fourths of Americans favor and Obama confronts head-on. A new award-winning worldwide book/ebook that helps explain the role, struggles, and contributions of immigrants and minorities is "What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” It paints a revealing picture of America for anyone who will benefit from a better understanding. Endorsed by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it also informs those who want to learn more about the last remaining superpower and how we compare to other nations on many issues.
As the book points out, immigrants and minorities are a major force in America. Immigrants and the children they bear account for 60 percent of our nation’s population growth and own 11 percent of US businesses and are 60 percent more likely to start a new business than native-born Americans. They represent 17 percent of all new business owners (in some states more than 30 percent). Foreign-born business owners generate nearly one-quarter of all business income in California and nearly one-fifth in New York, Florida, and New Jersey. In fact, forty percent of Fortune 500 companies were started by an immigrant or a child of an immigrant, creating 10 million jobs and seven out of ten top brands in our country.
More importantly, they come to improve their lives and create a foundation of success for their children to build upon, as did the author’s grandparents when they landed at Ellis Island in 1899 after losing 2 children to disease on a cramped cattle car-like sailing from Europe to the Land of Opportunity. Many bring skills and a willingness to work hard to make their dreams a reality, something our founders did four hundred years ago. In describing America, chapter after chapter chronicles “foreigners” who became successful in the US and contributed to our society. However, most struggle in their efforts and need guidance in Anytown, USA. Perhaps intelligent immigration reform, White House/Congress and business/labor cooperation, concerned citizens and books like this can extend a helping hand, the same unwavering hand that has been the anchor and lighthouse of American values for four hundred years.
Here’s a closing quote from the book’s Intro: “With all of our cultural differences though, you’ll be surprised to learn how much…we as human beings have in common on this little third rock from the sun. After all, the song played at our Disneyland parks around the world is ‘It’s A Small World After All.’ Peace.”