Quiz: How many times has the left argued that “amnesty will make the economy better”? Answer: Zero. Zilch. Nada.
The left, however, is always telling the American public how enacting comprehensive immigration reform can help the economy. Newsflash: “Comprehensive immigration reform” is Washington’s new (and not so new) code phrase for amnesty.
Why all the word games? Because Americans by and large don’t support amnesty. That’s why Americans supported the attempt by Arizona to actually enforce the law.
Representative Mike Honda (D–CA) tried this familiar tactic in his letter to the editor in Politico on Thursday. It was even entitled “Immigration Reform Makes Cents.” The Congressman touted a few numbers and made some general statements, many of which are completely right: Immigration has been great for America. Legal immigrants by and large come to the U.S., work hard, get an education, and contribute to everyone’s economic well-being. He’s also correct when he says that “immigrants who become U.S. citizens consistently pursue higher-paying jobs and higher education, spend more, and provide higher tax revenue.” But those statements are too general to make any firm conclusions about anything.
The problem, however, is that Honda supports amnesty for the 10.8 million illegal immigrants inside the United States. Suddenly, the calculus becomes very different. First, Honda fails to add in the cost of amnesty—meaning the manpower, technology upgrades, processing costs, logistics, and other government expenditures related to the legalization of 10.8 million individuals. Honda then assumes that an amnesty would prevent further illegal immigration to the United States. Past history lessons (including the 1986 amnesty) demonstrate that an amnesty only encourages further illegal immigration—which would start this problem and associated fiscal costs all over again.
Honda also makes a very big assumption about illegal immigrant households. A Heritage Foundation study found that low-skilled immigrant households take in $30,160 in benefits, education, and services, compared to the approximately $9,000 they contribute to the economy. Most on the right and left agree that illegal immigrant households are by and large low-skilled. The unsustainable welfare state has given low-skilled households of legal and illegal immigrants as well as native-born citizens an incentive to sink deeper into dependence on the government rather than seek work and contribute to the economy.
This means that the economic benefits Honda touts are likely obliterated in terms of local, state and federal benefits, education, and services, even after these illegal immigrants are given amnesty. The welfare problem is a bigger issue than just illegal immigration—and policymakers need to tackle it soon—but it also hurts Honda’s argument further that amnesty makes fiscal sense.
A responsible immigration policy can indeed provide economic advantages to the United States in a way that maintains rule of law and keeps the nation secure. Honda should be applauded for talking about a temporary worker program—many on the left won’t even begin to entertain that idea, fearing backlash from labor unions. Congress should reduce the incentives for illegal immigration and strengthen employers’ ability to hire the employees they need to help the economy grow without jeopardizing the nation’s security, sovereignty, and social fabric. It should also look at the welfare problem too—and encourage everyone to make the American economy stronger.
Repackaging amnesty as an economic stimulus does not dilute its fiscal impacts. It is time for Congress, including Honda, to take a different approach to immigration reform.