Injecting Economics Into The Immigration Debate

By: Mariel Beasley  

On August 15th, approximately 1 million people, who were brought into the United States illegally as children, can apply to receive a two-year work permit. Although there are some similarities, this is not a federal DREAM act, as proposed in 2010, which provides a path to citizenship for youth born after June 15, 1981 and arrived the United States before their 16th birthday. In mainstream media, the Act and the Directive have been primarily framed as opportunities and an issue of morality; there has been little economic analysis of the Directive and the impact of legally including up to 1 million people in the workforce.

Unemployment still sits at 8.3% across the country; however, this may be a well-timed boost to the economy. A study by the North American Integration and Development Center out of UCLA estimates that beneficiaries of the federal DREAM Act would generate over $3 trillion over 40 years. The study doesn’t even take into account additional contributions to social security or tax revenue in their economic analysis and still finds a significant positive economic impact. It’s reasonable to assume that the Directive will mimic at least some of these benefits. Additionally, a study from the University of Alabama, published earlier this year, finds that the costs of Alabama’s stringent immigration law far outweigh the benefits. They found that the strict regulations have actually eliminated over 70,000 jobs in the local economy, decreased Alabama’s GDP by up to 6% and cost the treasury up to $260 million in tax revenue.

These two studies suggest that integration legislation, rather than punitive legislation, is more likely to reduce state deficits. If pro-DREAMers are able to add economics to the debate, using the President’s Directive as a test drive, they may be able to garner enough bi-partisan support to pass federal legislation.

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