One (Economic) Argument for ONE California

05/05/2015 11:31 am ET | Updated May 05, 2016

The state legislature will soon be considering "ONE California," a budget proposal to extend a modest $20 million to qualified nonprofits to help immigrants enroll in administrative relief programs announced by the President (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA], DACA-extension, and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans [DAPA]) as well as encourage citizenship for Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs).

In some ways, this is an easy moral and political lift. For one thing, over 80 percent of LPRs eligible to naturalize and over half of undocumented Californians have been here for 10 years or more; they are part of the state's social fabric. For another, the Public Policy Institute reports that immigration reform is overwhelmingly popular in the state and that 70 percent of California adults support the President's executive actions on immigration.

But there are also economic arguments for why ONE California matters for the state: Documentation and citizenship can each result in income gains for immigrants, better conditions for their citizen kids and an expanded economy for everyone.

The Center for American Progress recently suggested that a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants could generate a 25 percent increase in their income (and, of course, ripple effects on the economy).

There are two parts to the boost: First, coming out of the shadows to legal status allows workers to raise their wages, in part by better matching their skills with employer demands; second, there is a separate "citizen gain" because naturalized immigrants have a wider range of job possibilities, are looked on more favorably by employers, and tend to invest more in U.S.-specific education and job training.

As such, documentation and citizenship programs can and should go together -- and one of the best aspects of ONE California is that it does not separate these efforts, but conjoins them in a fuller effort to promote immigrant integration.

If ONE California is effective, it will likely have considerable implications for parents and families. In a recent report, we estimated that nearly one in five minors in California have at least one DAPA-eligible parent and nearly 95 percent of those children are U.S. citizens. Full implementation of DAPA has the potential to boost family earnings in California by nearly $1.6 billion and bring nearly 40,000 children out of poverty. And with parental socioeconomic status one of the single largest impacts on student learning and future performance, this is all about the next California.

So can we afford the cost? In the context of the state's $113 billion general fund spending plan, $20 million is, let's just say, not large. Moreover, it's better thought of as investment: After all, there are short-term gains in terms of higher wages that will be spent and taxed immediately, as well as long-term gains in the form of children who will be more able to take on the mantle of the state's future.

But realizing these gains is not automatic. While the implementation of DAPA and the expansion of DACA has been held up by the ruling of a single Texas judge, legal experts are confident the new programs will be upheld. However, fear of government and misinformation can impede sign-up.

Nonprofit organizations are important guides along the road to both legal status (even if temporary) as well as citizenship: They work in culturally competent ways and tend to be more trusted than government bodies. That's particularly important for a population that rightly conflates government with deportation, especially since many immigrant families will have some members who qualify for relief while others do not.

Fortunately, California has a strong foundation of nonprofits and immigrant-serving organizations that can step up to the task of implementing the current executive actions. What they often lack are the funds to provide needed services -- and ONE California seeks to address the gap with a targeted program that will yield gains for everyone.

Each of the authors of this piece have benefitted from the fact that California invests in Californians -- in particular, in a system of public education and student financial aid that allowed us to overcome tough starts and achieve success. Immigrants and their kids are asking for same support and opportunity to recover from a tough start and contribute to the Golden State -- and ONE California can help.