Immigrants and Immigration Reform Will Power Our Future by Philip E. Wolgin, Center for American Progress


Just a few months ago, the Senate took a historic vote when it passed immigration reform with a bipartisan 68-32 supermajority. The Senate bill would completely revamp our nation’s broken immigration system, putting 11 million unauthorized immigrants on a pathway to citizenship, reuniting families that have been separated for years or even decades, and ensuring that our nation can welcome the next generation of aspiring citizens to our shores.

The story of Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa—who came to the United States in 1987 and worked his way up from farm laborer to directing the brain tumor program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center—leads off the chapter on immigration in All-In Nation. His story illustrates the important role that immigrants have played in our nation’s history, building and renewing the American spirit in every generation. As President Barack Obama told new citizens at a White House July 4th naturalization ceremony for veterans last year, “Immigration makes America stronger. Immigration makes us more prosperous. … You are all one of the reasons that America is exceptional.”

Today, more than 40 million foreign-born people call America home, hailing from all around the world and settling across the country. Immigrants are more likely than their native-born counterparts to start a business, and 40 percent of the Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. As throughout American history, the children of immigrants do even better than their parents, and are more likely to attend college and less likely to live in poverty than their native-born counterparts.  

Even so, our nation’s immigration system is badly broken—more than 11 million people are in the country without status, living in constant fear that they or their loved ones could be detained and deported. In fact, between July 2010 and September 2012, more than 200,000 parents of U.S. citizens were deported from the country. And even though these immigrants play a substantial role in the U.S. economy, because of their lack of legal status, they are more likely to be exploited and underpaid by their employers. Our legal immigration system also needs updating, with waiting times for family unity visas sometimes stretching for years or even decades, and an inability to actually admit the workers we need to power our economy.

Passing an immigration reform plan like the Senate’s will go a long way to solving these problems. The bill will clear the decades-long backlog of people waiting for legal visas while also opening up more avenues for both lesser- and highly-skilled workers to enter the country legally. Most importantly, in providing a pathway to legal status, the bill would supercharge our economy. Research has found that providing legal status to our nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants would grow U.S. GDP by a cumulative $832 billion and raise the wages of all Americans by $470 billion over a decade, all while creating on average 121,000 jobs each year. It would also help to keep the Social Security system solvent, as it copes with the retirements of the Baby Boomers, America’s largest generation. And as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has found, the Senate bill would reduce the federal deficit by $158 billion in the first decade after passage, and $685 billion in the second.

As immigration reform turns now to the House of Representatives, our elected officials would do well to heed the words of writer James Baldwin: “The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.” Our nation, our families, and our economy cannot wait.

Posted September 17th, 2013