Yesterday the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) -- the ultimate non-partisan referee on the costs and benefits of federal legislation -- said that the Senate immigration bill would reduce the federal deficit by a whopping $875 billion over twenty years.
One simple change that the Senate should make in response to the CBO score is to use a small slice of the savings in the bill to reduce the fines imposed on immigrants who apply for legal status.
The Senate could do this by either simply lowering the amount of the fine or by putting a cap on the total amount a family would have to pay. Doing this would increase the number of people who apply for legalization, which, as the CBO report shows, is good for all of us.
Here are five important things to know about the new CBO report:
1. Immigration reform is a big plus for the economy: The reason why immigration reform lowers the deficit by so much is that immigrants who no longer have to work under the table will earn more money and pay hundreds of billions of dollars more in federal taxes. The CBO report affirms what most Americans understand, that putting people on a path to citizenship is both good for families and good for the economy.
2. Under the bill the government would be collecting federal taxes from immigrants but denying them benefits: The benefit to the federal treasury is so high because immigrants will have to pay federal taxes like everyone else, but are barred from receiving most federal benefits. That may be the price of getting bi-partisan support for immigration reform, but the CBO report shows in black and white how unfair it is to collect federal taxes from people, but exclude them from the federal safety net.
3. Immigrants pick up the tab for the cost of more border security: On top of making a huge profit off of immigrants, the legislation puts most of the cost of 24/7 drone flights on the border, even more border fencing, and 3,500 new border patrol agents on the backs of immigrants. Under the Senate bill, the federal government will collect almost $13 billion from undocumented immigrants -- most of whom work long hours at low wages. These fines and fees will not only pay for the full cost of processing applications, but also fund the cost of a huge surge in spending at the border.
4. Immigrants working at low wages pay a bigger share of costs than big corporations: In another example of money talking in Washington, DC, big companies that are getting new visas to bring high tech workers to the U.S. are paying a smaller share of the cost of the new border and enforcement measures than undocumented immigrants.
5. The cost of applying is too high for many immigrant families: A typical undocumented immigrant will have to pay $4,570 in fees and fines to apply for legal status, $1,250 initially, $1,250 to renew after six years and $2,000 to apply for Legal Permanent Residence. Those costs will be too high for many families, who may have multiple adults who need to apply. The CBO estimates that only 8 million of the 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the country will obtain legal status under the Senate bill, in part because the cost of paying back taxes, fees and fines and employment and income requirements.
Now is the time to use a small amount of the vast savings in the bill to lower costs for immigrant families so that everyone who is eligible can afford to be included.