Written by Elinor Aspegren
On Thursday, Nov. 20, United States President Barack Obama issued his statement and plan for immigration. Many believe that immigration is a right, and not a privilege; others think that it is unfair to those who immigrated legally and will ruin the United States. A policy of granting amnesty to law-abiding immigrants will help the United States more than hurt it.
First, granting amnesty helps keep families together. Often, families are torn apart by deportation. According to the Migration Policy Institute, there are 3.71 million undocumented immigrants with children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. In addition, the executive order will extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to young people who came to this country before turning 16 years old and have been present since January 1, 2010, which will allow nearly 205,000 children to gain protection. This means that the U.S. will reduce the loss that many families feel when they are torn apart.
Moreover the economic benefits of fixing the U.S.’s broken education system are visible. Amnesty will increase tax revenue by $4.5 billion or more over three years, and increase gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. This will happen as the productivity of the American workforce will increase because undocumented workers will be able to find jobs that better match their skills and potential and because roughly ⅔ of all illegal immigrants do not pay their taxes for fear of deportation. A higher GDP means better living conditions for all Americans, not just immigrants. Furthermore, this act could offset the predicted drop in the U.S. workforce’s growth rate. According Matt McDonald, an adviser to McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, the growth rate is expected to drop from the current percent to 0.5 percent in the next five years, the lowest in decades. An influx of workers could not only counteract those losses but also help contribute to a greater workforce in future generations, as the amnesty impact will reach their children. In fact, amnesty is projected to create 1.4 million new jobs in the next few decades. On the other hand, according to the Center for American Progress (CAP), deporting all immigrants add up to $239 billion in total.
Still, many are worried about the potential costs of amnesty, namely in crime. However, criminals that do get in the United States are not making a crime wave. Fourteen percent of federal inmates are illegal immigrants, but they are largely there for immigration violations. Fewer than five percent of state inmates are illegal immigrants. This number will only get lower as we grant amnesty to many undocumented immigrants. Stanford economist Scott R. Baker calculated in 2012 that could lead to a nationwide drop in crime — as many as 50,000 fewer a year. He drew comparisons from the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which was a one time event that resulted in amnesty for 2.5 million undocumented workers. The 1986 Act led to the legalization of 2.5 million of the estimated 3.1 million illegal immigrants in the country at the time. Legalizing 1 percent of the population, according to Baker, led to a 2 percent decrease in crime. Legal immigrants are more likely to cooperate with the police during investigations, and family men are less prone to criminal behavior.
There are several precedents supporting policies of amnesty. Former President George H.W. Bush, for example, used executive power to permit 1.5 million undocumented spouses and children of people shielded from deportation by a previous law to also stay in the United States, which accounted for 40 percent of illegal immigrants in the country at the time. And, of course, Reagen enacted the 1986 IRCA bill. Illegal immigration immediately dropped after Congress enacted the 1986 amnesty, only exploding again after new immigration restrictions were enacted in 1996.
Given the high number of illegal immigrants already in the United States, we have little choice but to embrace amnesty. Deportation not only leads to excessive costs but also tears apart families. Furthermore, there would be dire consequences for the U.S. economy if millions left the labor pool. It is time for us to accept amnesty as the solution to the immigration problem after years of deliberation.