The U.S. should offer undocumented immigrants amnesty to maintain working-age population
President Barack Obama has decided to make immigration reform a priority for his second term. Illegal immigration has been tackled several times at the state level, but unsuccessfully. For example, Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070 legislation led to a decrease in overall state revenue, according to research by the Center for American Progress. Many argue the U.S. needs to deport illegal immigrants rather than provide amnesty. But rather than deporting illegal immigrants, it would be better economically to integrate illegal immigrants into the U.S. by extending amnesty and giving legal immigrants greater flexibility in obtaining citizenship status.
Such a move would allow the U.S. to sustain its working-age demographic position, according to Reuters. Without a sufficient workforce, we will not have enough of the appropriate people to work in different industries. A continuous influx of people is necessary for innovation, development and economic growth.. For example, the National Science Board has found that a large number of people in the science and technology sectors will be retiring soon, which illustrates the need for greater people in that sector. Many immigrants have scientific or technological backgrounds.
At the moment, the birth rate in the U.S. is at its lowest in 90 years according to the Pew Research Center, and it declined 8 percent between 2007 and 2010. As the baby boomer generation ages, immigration could help ensure that the working-age demographic remains more constant. But economic advisor George Magnus at UBS Financial Services notes that for the immigration population to level the declining birth rate and aging boomer generation, it would not have to merely increase but double, which indicates the extent of the United States’ demographic problem.
Other countries such as China are facing similar problems. In China, the one-child policy caused a decline in the population — as was intended — but may cause ruptures in a nation that derives strength from its large workforce. A large workforce provides cheap labor, which in turn provides cheap goods. Insufficient labor will change this dynamic. Unlike China, the U.S. has a solution to the problem in form of immigration and better immigration policies. Immigration offers us an avenue to ensure that we have a sufficiently large workforce.
Moreover, immigrants — both legal and illegal — contribute $37 billion a year to the economy, according to research by the Council of Economic Advisers, an agency that advises the president on economic matters. CNN reports from last year indicate that immigrants were “twice as likely to start a new business when compared to those born in the United States.” Additionally, The Huffington Post reports that in 2008, immigrant-owned businesses generated $67 billion of the country’s total business revenue of $577 billion. In 2010, 41 percent of Fortune 500 companies, including Google and Yahoo, had at least one founder who had an immigrant background. Such statistics suggest that immigrants contribute significantly to American economic success. Independent businesses not only provide employment but can also serve as platforms for innovation. Current policies constraining both legal and illegal immigrants, however, make such endeavors difficult.
Various politicians and members of the working class contend that providing amnesty is wrong. They say illegal immigrants do not pay taxes yet still work and live in the U.S. But some illegal immigrants do pay taxes. To work in the U.S., illegal immigrants pay taxes through taxpayer identification numbers and employer identification numbers. In 2010, California made $2.7 billion and Texas made $1.6 billion in tax revenue from illegal immigrants. According to Policy Mic, immigrants pay about $6 billion a year in social security and also make payments to Medicare and unemployment insurance. Unauthorized immigrants receive none of the benefits of these services.
By better integrating illegal immigrants into our legal system, not only do we benefit them by giving them legal status, but we also benefit our nation’s economy.
For the past few years Americans have been discussing how to improve our economy. Reforming our immigration system is one way to do that. The effect of granting amnesty remains to be seen — but it will most likely be a positive one.
_Fariha Kabir’s column appears Wednesdays in The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at