On June 18, the nonpartisan Congressional Budge Office (CBO) released a cost estimate of the bipartisan Senate immigration bill, officially known as S. 744 or the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. The CBO report represents good news for immigration reformers, buttressing the argument that immigration reform is a net positive to our economy and contradicting the claims of conservative groups looking to derail reform.
According to the CBO, immigration reform will reduce the deficit by $175 billion over the next 10 years (it will reduce the deficit an additional $700 billion in the 10 years after that). Second, it will be a boon to the states by increasing gross domestic product (e.g., over the next 10 years, Florida is estimated to experience a cumulative increase in GDP of $55.3 billion due to immigration reform) and increasing state tax revenues. Third, the wages of all U.S. workers will increase 0.5 percent by 2033 due to the economic growth induced by immigration reform. And fourth, Social Security and other social programs will be strengthened. Although immigration reform will generate some additional costs in government programs like Social Security, the added tax revenues of reform more than account for the additional expenditures for all social programs combined.
On Monday (June 24), the United States Senate, in a 67-27 vote, took a major step forward on S. 744 by endorsing a proposal to bolster border security as part of a measure that would provide a path to citizenship to the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. Republicans have been reluctant to support any immigration overhaul that did not secure the southern border, and endorsing the border security proposal should be seen as a major concession by Democrats.
The proposal, known as the Corker-Hoeven plan, is nothing but political cover for Republicans who are afraid of the Tea Party boogie man. The proposal “bolsters” border security by requiring 20,000 new border patrol agents and the completion of 700 miles of fence along the southern border. These measures, however, will cost the American taxpayer $30 billion over 10 years. Moreover, they are on top of the strong border security measures already within S. 744.
The Senate immigration bill already requires persistent surveillance of the entire southern border, with the goal of stopping 90 percent of unauthorized border crossings; it creates a board that will monitor the progress of border security; it funds an additional 3,500 border agents by the end of 2013; and it will make the government’s Internet-based work-authorization system, E-Verify, mandatory for all employers in the United States within five years. And in reality, the southern border is more secure than ever before. Net undocumented migration is now at or below zero. The number of border apprehensions has dramatically decreased. Annual deportations have reached historic levels. And there are more border agents than there have ever been in history.
In light of this, the Corker-Hoeven plan is wasteful and unnecessary. But inclusion of the plan was necessary to secure enough votes from Republicans to clear a procedural filibuster.
For years, the Republican Party has embraced anti-immigrant vitriol as the official party platform, denouncing as “amnesty” any effort to grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants. But after the 2012 election, in which Latinos voted for President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney 71% to 27%, the Republican leadership came under heavy pressure to pass something of significance regarding immigration reform.
Monday’s vote in the Senate reflects both sides of this coin. On the one hand, the Corker-Hoeven plan is illustrative of Republicans’ continued commitment to making immigration reform less humane and more expensive. On the other hand, the broad bipartisan support S. 744 received reflects the pressure on Republican leadership to pass legislation of consequence, or risk setting the GOP back another generation with Hispanic voters.
Given this pressure, and Monday’s vote, it is likely that S. 744 will pass the Senate, possibly before the holiday recess. Attention will then turn to the House of Representatives, where immigration reform will face even stiffer opposition than in the Senate. Republican redistricting has ensured that Democrats would need to win the popular vote by a full 7-percentage-point margin to retake the House under current district lines. As a result, House Republican lawmakers have much more to fear politically from the right than from the left.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that he would not break the Hastert Rule on immigration. “[A]ny immigration reform bill that is going to go into law ought to have a majority of both parties’ support if we’re really serious about making that happen,” Boehner told reporters. “And so I don’t see any way of brining an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have the majority support of Republicans.” As the Huffington Post recognized, however, “whether he decides to break this promise could be the difference between immigration reform passing into law or going down in flames.”
The CBO report lays waste to the economic arguments against immigration reform, and the imminent passage of S. 744, despite the legislation’s flaws, will represent important progress. A new immigration policy is vital to American competitiveness and long-term economic development. We need big ideas and bold policy actions. The question now is whether Congress will come together to do the right thing.
History does not have to repeat itself. America cannot afford anything less.
**Image Credit: Justin Valas on Flickr