House Speaker John Boehner's recent selection of Rep. Elton Gallegly of California over Rep. Steve King of Iowa to head the Judiciary Committee's immigration subcommittee is one step closer to the kind of reform for which past administrations, including those of former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, had long called.
Both Republican congressmen may be opposed to the kind of reform that House Democrats call for. But Gallegly seems inclined to take a more reasoned approach. Especially if Democrats can explain the economic advantages to reform. And there are many.
Immigration brings formidable fiscal implications. Keeping immigrants here or sending them home can save or cost taxpayers dearly. Just count the ways that reform, which puts undocumented immigrants on the path to legalization, could foot our country's finances.
First, any deportation plan for undocumented immigrants would cost our country's gross domestic product a whopping $2.6 trillion over the next 10 years, according to a study by Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Conversely, if we embrace comprehensive immigration reform, we could add $1.5 trillion to the U.S. GDP over the next 10 years. The economy could also benefit from a temporary worker program, Hinojosa-Ojeda projected,by raising GDP by $792 billion.
Second, immigrants who become U.S. citizens consistently pursue higher-paying jobs and higher education, spend more and provide higher tax revenue. Just imagine what 12 million newly documented Americans could do for the economy.
The legalization process also brings economic benefits -- like the retention of remittances. Workers send substantial portions of their salary to family members abroad, but reform could reunite families separated by our immigration system and keep monies in the U.S.
For example, total U.S. remittances to Latin America was almost $46 billion in 2008. Of that, Mexico received almost $24 billion. Reducing remittances offers obvious cash infusion for our economy, since billions of dollars now sent overseas would be spent instead on U.S. businesses -- creating jobs and helping to revive our economy.
Third, by giving 2.1 million American students the opportunity to pursue higher education or military service, our government could collect $3.6 trillion over the next 40 years. The DREAM Act, which failed in the Senate in December but remains a bipartisan effort, offers a conditional six-year path to permanent, legal U.S. residence for immigrant youth who demonstrate good moral character and complete at least two years of higher education or U.S. military service.
Without the DREAM Act, about 65,000 students a year -- honor-roll scholars, star athletes, talented artists and aspiring teachers -- will graduate high school and then hit a roadblock. Instead of upward mobility and higher education, they will be forced to live in the shadows and work low-paying jobs.
Fourth, the Reuniting Families Act, which I plan to reintroduce this Congress, would allow all Americans to be reunited with their families -- including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender "permanent partners."
The economic benefits of this policy cannot be overstated. American workers, with their families by their side, are happier, healthier and more able to succeed than those living apart from loved ones for years on end. By pooling resources, families can do together what they can't do alone -- start small businesses, provide care for the young and old, create U.S. jobs and contribute more to this country's welfare.
Healthier communities have more expendable income and place a lower burden on government social services. This correlation is well substantiated -- but it is up to us to make it a reality.
We understand that during tough economic times, the natural reaction is to close borders and look inward. Yet the irony of an anti-immigration sentiment, which fears job losses for Americans if more workers enter the U.S., is that it is fiscally prudent to legalize, insure, employ, reunite and educate our immigrants than to keep families apart.
This is a time when we must use every available resource to stimulate our economy and control government spending. To my fiscally conservative Republican colleagues, the onus is on you. Left to future Congresses, the number of undocumented immigrants will only increase and the visa waits will only get longer. Meanwhile, we will lose an opportunity to do what's economically right.
The fiscal case is clear: reform now.