Archives: Legalizing illegal immigration could bring economic pains

Originally published in January 2013
Simon Nguyen

Immigration reform seems to be the only issue that has bipartisan support these days. A group of eight senators -- four from each party -- unveiled on Monday an immigration reform framework that includes “probationary legal status” as well as a pathway to citizenship. While the details of the plan are not yet finalized, any legislation that gives any sort of legal status to illegal immigrants is sure to inflict some economic pains.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, there were 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2010. While many of them receive some level of government services, these services are mostly for emergency and education. Undocumented immigrants can only receive health care through visits to the hospital emergency rooms; their children can attend public schools, but may not be eligible for college financial aid. If the legislation passes and illegal immigrants gain legal status, we could be looking at up to 11.5 million new qualified recipients of government services and benefits. Can the federal government and states – which have already been riddled with debts – support this many new people?

U.S. businesses could also be impacted by the proposed plan, since a number of them profit from cheap labor. Businesses won't be able to suppress wages and benefits as would-now-be-legal immigrants will be protected by state and federal labor laws. New labor unions could conceivably be formed as a result of this development. Consequently, we may see less jobs and possibly increased levels of outsourcing.

Any legislation that offers amnesty also poses long-term risks. There is a reason why migration flows between the U.S. and Mexico have been at a net zero in recent years, according to Pew Research. The weak economy and threat of deportations have made America a less attractive immigration choice for its neighbors. With the proposed pathway to citizenship, they will now have a further incentive to come into the country illegally and establish roots here. We could see a repeat of the boom in immigration that followed President Ronald Reagan’s 1986 amnesty, which legalized 3 million undocumented immigrants.

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