How Do You See Immigration Reform Affecting the Economy?

BY Meena Ganesan  June 5, 2013 at 11:23 AM EST

Inside Immigration Reform is a PBS NewsHour ongoing series.

This week on the PBS NewsHour, we look at the economic costs and benefits of the immigration reform bill currently under consideration in the United States Senate.

The legislation would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the country — a provision that has charted contrasting and nuanced views from both the right and the left, as well as within the spectrum of the right.

Ahead of our discussion segment scheduled to air Wednesday, we want to hear from you. Weigh in on each of the statements below.


Economist Doug Holtz-Eakin of the conservative think tank American Action Forum suggests that without immigration, the population and overall economy would decline as a result of low U.S. birth rates.

From his study:

A benchmark immigration reform would raise the pace of economic growth by nearly a percentage point over the near term, raise GDP per capita by over $1,500 and reduce the cumulative federal deficit by over $2.5 trillion.

Holtz-Eakin, who is also a former Congressional Budget Office director, noted at a recent Bipartisan Policy Center panel that while the legislation on the floor isn’t all positive, it would afford the opportunity for a stronger economy and more rapid growth. He said, as happens often in Congress, “There will be a group of disgruntled people voting ‘yes.’ And that’s what’ll happen this time.”


On the other side of the immigration debate, Robert Rector, of the also conservative Heritage Foundation, claims that legalizing undocumented immigrants would cost U.S. taxpayers $6.3 trillion.

His study released in May proposes that while well-educated households tend to be net contributors to the economy, “the high deficits of poorly educated households are important in the amnesty debate because the typical unlawful immigrant has only a 10th-grade education.”

Rector told the NewsHour:

Well it’s true that increased immigration makes the GDP bigger, it doesn’t make the per capita income better. All the benefits go to the immigrants themselves … In my analysis, what I do is assume, once you legalize an illegal immigrant, he begins to use public services in equal proportion to his American counterpart here who is his same age.


Economist Robert Lynch, a fellow at the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, estimates that legalizing the undocumented population, depending on the time frame for granting citizenship, could boost the country’s GDP anywhere from $832 billion to $1.4 trillion by creating new jobs, raising productivity, and contributing to growth in U.S. tax revenue.

Lynch told the NewsHour:

What we know is that illegal immigrants are earning a lot less than they potentially could, and that with pathway to citizenship, they could be earning a lot more and contributing to growth in earnings and tax revenues.


Professor Harry Holtzer, of the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, found in his 2011 analysis of immigration policy that low-skilled immigrants brought economic benefits primarily to employers paying lower wages and consumers purchasing goods and services produced by that same demographic of immigrants.

While Holtzer admits to the long standing argument that immigrants could impose some costs on U.S. workers “competing for similar jobs,” he also adds:

Immigration accounts for only a small share of the deterioration we have observed in less-skilled Americans’ labor market employment and earnings. In the absence of immigration, wages might rise somewhat in certain occupations and certain areas, but probably not by enough to substantially improve the welfare of less-skilled Americans.


For more on this evolving debate, visit NewsHour’s Immigration page.