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Economic Benefits of Immigration Discussed in Task Force Meeting

By Laura DeKoven Waxman
January 30, 2012

Calling for building bridges of friendship, not walls, Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas guided a discussion of how to talk about immigration reform and immigrants during the January 18 meeting of the Conference of Mayors Task Force on Immigration Reform, which he chairs. Salinas talked about how the issue of immigration has been an incredibly divisive one in this country and the hurt and tears he has seen when families are separated — often children from their parents — by the nation's immigration laws. Joining Salinas were the task force two vice chairs — North Miami Mayor André Pierre and Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola — who discussed the immigrant populations in their cities.

Briefing the task force was Angela Maria Kelley, Vice President for Immigration Reform and Advocacy at the Center for American Progress, who described Washington's paralysis in dealing with immigration reform and said that no meaningful or positive legislation is likely this year. She commented that those who oppose reform often point to the costs, ignoring the economic contributions that undocumented workers make to the nation's economy. She discussed the economics of the issue which are often overlooked and which, she said, could provide some "space to talk about it:"

  • A comprehensive immigration reform plan that included legalization for all undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. would add $1.5 trillion to America's cumulative GDP over ten years.

  • In contrast, if all undocumented immigrants in the country were deported, the cumulative ten-year GDP would be reduced by $2.6 trillion.

  • The federal government would receive $4.5 to $5.4 billion in additional net tax revenue over three years if all undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. were legalized.

Kelley also described the negative economic impact which some of the recently-passed state laws which make it a crime to hire undocumented immigrants and allow law enforcement to detain individuals they have "reasonable suspicion" to believe are in the country without papers. She indicated that Georgia's agricultural industry has lost an estimated $300 million in un-harvested crops; the total possible state-wide impact last year alone could be as much as $1 billion. She said that it's estimated that Arizona has lost $144 million in direct spending that would have come from conference's that were cancelled by organizations boycotting the state. Later in the discussion, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild reported that Tucson lost 30 percent on sales tax revenues in the three months after Arizona's law passed and that the CEOs of the 60 largest companies have written a letter to the Governor and the legislature calling the law "bad for business."

Kelley indicated that polls show the vast majority of Americans supporting common'sense immigration reform and the development of a pathway to legal status for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country. They want to see these immigrants register to get in the system, pay taxes, learn English, and get a background check.

A wide range of issues were raised by other mayors attending the session. Two came with personal stories to tell about the difficulties undocumented immigrants married to relatives were having navigating the U.S. immigration system. Dayton Mayor Gary Leitzell described his city's immigrant-friendly policies. Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima raised the issue of allowing undocumented immigrants to have driver's licenses, which is currently allowed under New Mexico law but may be revoked by the Governor, commenting that "the law may change, but behavior won't."