By Sue Weishar, Ph.D.
There are many good reasons to support the comprehensive immigration reform bill, S. 744, introduced by a bi-partisan group of Senators (the Gang of Eight) April 16 and voted out of the Senate with strong bi-partisan support (68 to 32) on June 27.
The economic reasons are compelling: The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates S. 744 will cut the deficit by almost $ 843 billion in the first twenty years after passage by growing the economy through the addition of highly productive workers, including foreign students who complete graduate degrees in STEM fields at U.S. universities.
The costs of Medicare and Social Security for our country’s aging population will be shored up by passage of the bill through the infusion of mostly young, working-age immigrants through new visa categories and an increase in FICA taxes paid by formerly undocumented workers who will finally be able to leave the shadow economy and exploitive working conditions.
Immigration reform will also provide a wage boost to the vast majority of native-born workers in two ways according to economist Giovanni Peri. First, because immigrants and native-born workers tend to have different levels of education, possess different works skills, and work in different occupations, the jobs they depend are often interdependent and complementary. This increases the productivity of natives, which in turn increases their wages. For example, an immigrant will often take a job as a construction worker or taxi driver, while a native-born worker will end up being promoted to supervisor. Second, the inflow of immigrants stimulates investment in new stores, restaurants, and homes—increasing the demand for labor which exerts an upward pressure on wages.
The bill will address border security with an obscene increase in resources to the Department of Homeland Security, including doubling the number of Border Patrol agents, 350 more miles of border fencing, and additional mobile, video, and agent portable surveillance systems, Department of Defense border radar equipment, and the deployment of 160 unmanned aircraft systems, including crew and personnel. The bill will also ramp up workplace enforcement by requiring all employers, large and small, to check the status of their employees through an electronic employment verification system.
There is strong support from the American public for comprehensive immigration reform provisions included in S. 744. A recent Gallup poll found that 87% of respondents support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. that includes a long waiting period, paying taxes and a penalty, passing background checks, and learning English—all requirements for undocumented immigrants to earn citizenship in S. 744.
I believe the most compelling reason we find to support S. 744 has to do with our Catholic faith. A key foundation of Catholic social thought is that all human beings have great dignity and worth because all humans are made in the image and likeness of God. Undocumented immigrants and their family members must endure the constant and demeaning threat of detection by authorities and the debilitating fear that parents may be separated, perhaps forever, from their children. The legalization provisions of S. 744 will finally allow undocumented immigrants in the U.S. to leave the oppressive burden of illegality and develop their God-given potential as full members of American society.
Some Republican leaders in the House have been pushing for a “piecemeal” approach to immigration reform that would permit more highly skilled workers to enter the U.S. now but delay a path to citizenship for over 11 million undocumented immigrants until the border is secure. But as Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA), said at a House Judiciary Committee Hearing in February, “it has to be a comprehensive approach or we’ll never get to the hard part.” A piecemeal approach to immigration reform will prevent the crafting of difficult decisions-- which in our democracy can only be reached through compromise. Comprehensive immigration reform legislation, such as S. 744, is needed to achieve the grand bargain that will lead to real reform.
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