Thanks to the electoral drubbing Republicans took from Latino voters on Tuesday, it's looking increasingly likely Congress might actually tackle comprehensive immigration reform some time this year. House Speaker John Boehner suddenly likes the idea. Even Fox News' Sean Hannity is a convert.
That's delightful news for any number of reasons. If it happens, millions of hard working people will be able to step out of America's legal shadows. But almost as importantly, it might just give the U.S. economy a trillion-dollar shot in the arm, as explained in a report published by the left-leaning Center for American Progress in 2010.
To get that boost, we have to be smart about reform. CAP argues that a truly comprehensive program would create a path to citizenship for people who are already here and set flexible limits for future immigration, so that annual totals rise and fall with our demand for labor. They estimate that those policies would add $1.5 trillion to the economy over ten years, or about 0.84 percent to our annual GDP. Compare that to mass deportations which, by sending millions of individuals packing, would sap trillions from consumer spending and growth.
These calculations are based partly on the impact of the Reagan administration's 1986 immigration reforms, which gave legal status to about 3 million undocumented individuals. That, in turn, gave those workers leverage to bargain with their employers for higher paychecks, while giving them an incentive to learn English so they could advance in the workplace. Estimates vary as to exactly how much newly legal immigrants were able to earn, but they all point to an improvement in their earning power.