Immigration reform can only improve AmericaIt’s starting to look as if meaningful immigration reform finally has a chance of becoming law.
By: Rekha Basu, Scripps Howard News Service
It’s starting to look as if meaningful immigration reform finally has a chance of becoming law.
It won’t necessarily be because politicians suddenly found God or awoke to the value of immigrants. More likely, it will be out of pragmatic self-interest. The Latino voting population is growing rapidly, and immigration reform is very important to its members. Senate Republicans know what it could mean for them that Democrat Barack Obama trounced Republican Mitt Romney among Hispanics, 71 percent to 27 percent in November.
But regardless of why our broken immigration system ultimately gets fixed, the implications for America’s future are boundless if it does.
From a community standpoint, it will mean an end to a two-tiered society in which 11 million people don’t even exist on paper. The meat packer, the construction worker, the people who mow our lawns, clean our homes or care for our kids won’t need to be paid under the table or by using fake documents.
The roads will be safer as people who aren’t legally eligible to drive get licenses and insurance. More license fees mean more money for strapped public services.
Neighborhoods will become more stable, as people who couldn’t get bank loans or credit cards or Social Security numbers are eligible to buy instead of rent.
People not forced underground can play more active roles in their children’s schools, in neighborhood and civic organizations. As crime victims, they will be freer to call police on criminals who might prey on others.
It will be harder for employers and managers to exploit, rape, withhold wages from — and force overtime on — workers, who won’t have to be silenced by their immigration status.
New jobs will be created and filled, new patents will be granted and employers will be better able to fill medical, engineering, computer and other high-tech jobs for which there is a skills shortage. That will allow U.S. companies to stay productive.
This isn’t just conjecture. High-skilled immigrants contribute more than their share as inventors, employers and consumers. Studies show immigrants are more likely than native-born Americans to get patents on new inventions or processes. Immigrants from India, for example, are only 1 percent of the U.S. population, yet one-third of the engineers in Silicon Valley. And 71 percent of Indians in America have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 28 percent of the overall U.S. population.
One in four high-tech start-ups is started by an immigrant. For every 100 H1B temporary visas for high-skilled immigrants, 183 American jobs are created. But there aren’t enough visas.
With the right immigration reform, there won’t be a wait of 25 years or more for a permanent residence visa (for Indian professionals, the wait can be up to 70 years), or a yearly limit of 140,000, or a 25,000 cap per country. The line to become a citizen will move faster. Families will not be separated for decades, with those here sending half their paychecks back to members who can’t legally join them.
The skills of many graduates of our top universities won’t be lost when they are forced to leave. More people mean more customers to keep businesses profitable.
Since new immigrants tend to be of working age, their Social Security taxes will help support elderly Americans currently drawing on those benefits. One economist even found that illegal immigrants using fake Social Security numbers added 10 percent to the Social Security coffers.
And if experts at the Brookings Institute and elsewhere are correct, wages for American workers will generally go up and prices down with immigration reform. That’s because certain businesses that couldn’t otherwise compete with foreign rivals can do so when there is a bigger labor pool.
On the downside, it’s possible that some U.S. workers will be competing with immigrants for low-wage jobs. Then again, if employers can’t pay people less for being undocumented, the playing field will be more level. Studies also find that American workers don’t want the jobs undocumented immigrants have taken, or don’t want to move to underpopulated areas for them, as immigrants do.
Before this can happen, some issues must be settled. Expect an uptick in immigrant-bashing and baseless claims and stereotypes.
Just remember the facts — and why, finally, it’s time to get this done.
Basu is a Des Moines Register columnist.