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Want Economic Growth? Legalize 12 Million People

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A job-less recovery, ballooning deficits, fraudulent foreclosures, middle class anxiety -- let's face it, we are feeling the mother of all hang-overs from the Great Recession.

But there is one major catalyst, an economic engine that we've ignored, for igniting robust, sustainable economic growth that will lift all boats: comprehensive immigration reform that brings 12 million undocumented immigrants fully into the economy.

Call it the "12 million people stimulus bill" project.

As Americans, we need to be strategists that are thinking about the next 100 years of American global leadership.  Comprehensive immigration reform, if the law is intelligently conceived and executed, will be a significant step in increasing our global competitiveness.  Its passage will spark economic growth across broad sectors of the American economy, from manufacturing to retail.

Fully integrated into the economy, immigrants will add to both the financial and human capital of the country. New businesses will be created by these immigrants, their kids will be able to plan college educations, money now squirreled away will be invested in productive activities, the tax base will expand. In fact, several studies have projected a more rapid growth in GDP because of the effect of immigration.

According to the Center for American Progress report "Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform":

"The historical experience of legalization under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act indicates that comprehensive immigration reform would raise wages, increase consumption, create jobs, and generate additional tax revenue. Even though IRCA was implemented during an economic recession characterized by high unemployment, it still helped raise wages and spurred increases in educational, home, and small-business investments by newly legalized immigrants. Taking the experience of IRCA as a starting point, we estimate that comprehensive immigration reform would yield at least $1.5 trillion in cumulative U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years. This is a compelling economic reason to move away from the current "vicious cycle" where enforcement-only policies perpetuate unauthorized migration and exert downward pressure on already low wages, and toward a "virtuous cycle" of worker empowerment in which legal status and labor rights exert upward pressure on wages."

Objective economic evidence strongly suggest that immigration in not only needed for the long-term economic health of the United States, it is in fact today an important driver of growth in the overall American economic pie. This is growth, moreover, to the benefit of all Americans.

Getting this part of our national strategy is critical.  A recent study undertaken for the Federal Reserve showed the net positive effect of immigration for native-born American workers.  As the study states:

"...[A] net inflow of immigrants equal to 1% of employment increases income per worker by 0.6% to 0.9%. This implies that total immigration to the United States from 1990 to 2007 was associated with a 6.6% to 9.9% increase in real income per worker. That equals an increase of about $5,100 in the yearly income of the average U.S. worker in constant 2005 dollars. Such a gain equals 20% to 25% of the total real increase in average yearly income per worker registered in the United States between 1990 and 2007."

Sadly, this is an issue that has become violently partisan. The Arizona anti-immigrant law, for example, was passed on a straight party vote.

It is a fundamental mistake to filter immigration reform through a partisan lens. I think a more accurate context through which to view immigration is as a national security issue.  America must look forward to a changing world and be sure that we will have the human resources needed to maintain our economic and military supremacy. Our global competitors are not sitting still -- we should not either.

As history has shown us, countries that have failed to keep these factors in balance tend to fade as global powers. The Chinese Empire, Spain, France and Britain are just some of the examples of former world powers brought low by bad policy decisions. We should not join them.

If this issue is properly and responsibly handled by political leaders -- leaders that transcend petty party concerns to become statesmen and stateswomen -- it is an opportunity to bring the country together with a smart, strategic reform that is pro-economic growth.

Leaders of both parties must rise to the occasion -- America needs you to do the right thing. America needs a "12 million people stimulus bill" now.