The economic impact of immigration reform

In an article published Monday, Univision Immigration Editor Ted Hesson examines the potential economic impact of immigration reform by looking at two reports from respected researchers — one often cited by reform advocates and another cited by immigration restrictionists. Leaders from both parties are talking about immigration reform as a central issue in 2013. Among other things, such a bill could potentially legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants who are currently living in the shadows.

How would that impact the economy? There are a few different opinions out there.

To begin with, there is no certainty that a reform bill will materialize or, if it does, what it will look like. But there are some existing reports that, based on hypothetical scenarios, give an estimate.

“I wouldn’t get too wedded to any particular or exact number, but I think you can learn a lot from the approach of going ahead and trying to make a projection,” said David Dyssegaard Kallick, a senior fellow at the Fiscal Policy Institute, a nonpartisan organization that studies immigration and the economy. “You can see the magnitude of things.”

In sum, predicting economic scenarios 10 years down the road is a science, but estimates can vary. Researchers need to make some assumptions along the way, like whether a legalization program today would have the same effects as a legalization program did 25 years ago. And there’s limited data on what happens when undocumented workers are given legal status. For that, you have to turn back the clock to 1986.

However, of nine economists and policy experts consulted by ABC/Univision, the majority found that a mass legalization program would have an overall positive impact on the economy.

That includes John Feinblatt, the chief policy advisor for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose Partnership for a New American Economy has done its own body of research on the impact of reform.

“There’s a pretty straightforward explanation for this,” Feinblatt, said. “The act of immigration itself is an entrepreneurial act. Picking up your things, leaving your relatives behind and coming to a new country is about wanting something better for yourself.”

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