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Published: 5/11/2013 - Updated: 11 months ago

Rhetoric vs. reality

Bogus arguments about economics, security, and ‘amnesty’ can’t be allowed to kill immigration reform

Political resistance to the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill is growing. A new report by the conservative Heritage Foundation asserts that the bill would harm rather than strengthen the nation’s economy — a conclusion that many other conservatives reject. And various nativists are demanding an impossible level of border security before the bill’s provisions could take effect.

Such efforts at obstruction should not dissuade the Senate from passing the bill. Nor should they cause Americans to lose sight of the purpose of reform: providing a path to legal status and citizenship for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants, which will contribute more to the economy than it will cost.

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The Heritage study concludes that legalizing undocumented immigrants, thus making them eligible for government benefits, would cost $6.3 trillion more than they would pay in taxes. But other studies from across the ideological spectrum dispute that analysis. They conclude that immigration reform will promote economic growth and job creation, increase tax revenue, and reduce the federal deficit by trillions of dollars.

The Senate bill would affect as many as 10,000 workers on farms and in related industries in Ohio and Michigan. Advocates say growers and food companies seek the predictability and labor market stability that immigration reform would bring.

The same is true of the construction industry, which also relies heavily on immigrant labor, legal and illegal. Legalization would make it easier for immigrants to start and expand businesses and to travel for work.

The Heritage Foundation study’s use of such terms as “welfare state” and “amnesty” suggest it is rooted as much in politics as in economics. Many prominent Republicans who ordinarily find common cause with Heritage are saying so.

Similarly, other anti-immigration hard-liners who demand greater security along the border between the United States and Mexico ignore the fact that the border is about as secure as it’s ever been, as the Wall Street Journal noted recently. The nation is spending big to keep it so.

The stressed federal budget includes $17 billion a year for customs and border enforcement. The Senate bill would spend as much as $6.5 billion more over a decade on border security: fencing, drones, high-tech surveillance, and more agents.

The number of Border Patrol agents has tripled since the Clinton administration. There are also many more customs officers, more fences, more cameras, more aircraft and other military-style surveillance vehicles.

As a result, the number of illegal entries into the United States has reached a 40-year low. As the Great Recession widened and deepened, more Mexican nationals began to leave this country for Mexico than the other way around.

President Obama’s Administration deported more criminal aliens and illegal entrants during his first term than George W. Bush’s administration did. Such progress suggests that the demands for even more border security are an effort not to strengthen immigration reform, but to kill it.

There are ways to improve the Senate bill, such as a stronger guest-worker program. It’s at least worth considering whether the measure’s provision to make most illegal immigrants wait 13 years for full citizenship is fair punishment for breaking the law, or arbitrarily excessive. The millions of applicants for legal immigration, some of whom have been waiting even longer, would be better served by efforts in the Senate bill to fix that bureaucracy.

No one reasonably expects that a Congress this divided will pass a perfect immigration bill. But lawmakers can pass a good one — if they don’t allow the same old discredited arguments to derail it.



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