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The Dollars and Sense of Immigration Reform

Lauren Lyster
Daily Ticker


President Obama began selling his immigration reform plan to the public this week, giving a speech on the subject in Nevada Tuesday.

The proposals he laid out include continuing to strengthen security at the borders and cracking down more forcefully on businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers. He called for a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in America here now illegally. Also, he called for bringing the legal immigration system “into the 21st century” and noted the difficulty facing those trying to come here legally.

Earlier this week, a bipartisan group of senators also announced principles for comprehensive immigration reform, which Obama said in his speech are in line with the principles he’s proposed.

Florida GOP Senator Marco Rubio has been making media appearances pushing the Senate plan with conservatives.

Meantime, business groups such as the National Retail Federation have issued statements applauding the recent proposals for immigration reform.

But what does immigration reform mean for the economy?

Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, talked to The Daily Ticker about the economic impact of reform.

“It’s very clear in economic circles the impact of immigration reform would be to create jobs,” argues Munoz. “What we know about immigrants that come legally as well as the folks that are here illegally is that their impact is to really spur innovation, spur economic development, and spur the creation of jobs.”

Munoz cites the president’s plan to extend visas for entrepreneurs as an example.

It’s a little more of a stretch to figure out how immigrants here illegally, for example low-skilled workers perhaps being paid under the table currently, will help to “create jobs” once they are documented and added to the rolls of Americans vying for jobs in an already tough labor market.

Munoz notes the President’s proposal is as much about holding employers accountable as anything else, and holding workers responsible for getting on the right side of the law. She argues this will allow authorities to better enforce labor and wage laws and make it a more even playing field for everyone.

Munoz notes that people going through the legalization process would not be eligible for federal public benefits and said they anticipate a net positive impact on an entitlement like Social Security with these workers paying more in taxes.

In terms of the need for more investment in border security Munoz says it will continue to be a focus but notes, “the border is as secure as it’s been in the last forty years. Net migration from Mexico is at zero…there’ve been huge investments in the border, in security and it’s paying off.”

While Munoz’s claim about net migration is true according to a May 2012 report from the Pew Research Hispanic Center, the reasons may be more complex. The report cites weakened job and housing construction markets as factors contributing to the drop off in immigrants coming to the US from Mexico, as well as the increase in immigrants returning back to Mexico from the U.S.

And the issue of border security could be a sticking point in actually getting immigration reform done politically, at least according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

The Journal reports “the Senate framework wouldn't allow people to qualify for citizenship until unspecified improvements in border security were met and a new system was in place to track people who arrive on legal visas.”

According to the WSJ, Republicans insist on the provision, but the White House explicitly rejected it.

Related: Obama looks to fast immigration reform

Munoz tells The Daily Ticker this difference between the two plans has been overstated. She also notes the administration hasn’t yet seen the details of the Senate panel’s proposal.

“I think the story here is really how much agreement there is,” she says.

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