It never surprises me when non-Latino sites immediately praise Republicans who move a tiny bit toward a sensible immigration reform plan. The question to Republicans from pro-migrant advocates (and lefty bloggers) should always be: Does it include a path to citizenship?
As I went through a power nap this afternoon with the MSNBC on in the background, I heard the terms Marco Rubio and Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the same sentence, and that awoke me! Reading more on the direction he’s headed left me wanting a longer nap.
It’s all still very vague and the White House and Senate have yet to produce a specific bill of their own to compare it to. But while Rubio stressed that his plan “is not blanket amnesty or a special pathway to citizenship,” he made clear that the legislation he had in mind would strive to ensure that the undocumented population is not left in legal limbo indefinitely. Given that Rubio has toyed with bills that might have stopped short of citizenship before, this is a significant move.
And I call it a move toward announcing for 2016 with a kinder, gentler attitude toward Latinos, who only supported the GOP at about 27%. Creating a second class of people is not an option, just like creating multiple “temporary” work programs is not one. For Rubio and the Republicans, all it takes is appeasing another 18% of the Latino electorate to achieve a win.
It seems we all need a quick lesson on why citizenship matters, and the Center for American Progress provides us that lesson. And then, we must all push for citizenship in immigration reform proposals.
Here we review the top five reasons why citizenship—not just legal status—is of critical importance to our society and to our economy.
1. Big gains to the economy. A December 2012 study by Manuel Pastor and Justin Scoggins of the University of Southern California found that a path to citizenship leads to higher wages for naturalized immigrants both immediately and over the long term. Naturalized immigrants earn between 5.6 percent and 7.2 percent more within two years of becoming a citizen, and peak at between 10.1 percent and 13.5 percent higher wages 12 years to 17 years from the time of naturalization. Higher wages means more consumer spending, and more spending means more growth for the overall economy. Pastor and Scoggins also found that even if only half of those eligible to become citizens do so, it would add $21 billion to $45 billion to the U.S. economy over 10 years.
2. Economic gains for the native born. Numerous studies have found that immigrants raise the wages of the native born—for example, by complementing the skills of the native born and by buying goods and services, all of which expands the size of the economy. And with even higher earnings after naturalization, more money would be moving through the economy. The $21 billion to $45 billion in extra wages would be spent on things such as houses, cars, iPads, computers, and the like, and as people buy more products, businesses see more revenue and are more willing to hire new workers. Put simply, more money in the system creates economic growth and supports new job creation for all Americans.
3. Certainty for both immigrants and employers. A number of scholars working on the economics of citizenship have pointed out that naturalization sends a signal to employers that their workers are fully committed to life in the United States, while also giving immigrants the certainty that they will never have to worry about suddenly uprooting their lives and moving elsewhere. This certainty gives employers the peace of mind that they will not have to retrain a new worker—often at high costs—if the immigrant employee loses their visa or chooses to move elsewhere, and gives individuals the stability to invest in more schooling and more job training, both of which ultimately lead to higher wages and better careers.
4. A stronger, more integrated United States. Since the founding of our country, we have granted citizenship to newcomers and have actively worked to ensure that they are fully integrated into everyday life. Nations such as Germany that historically denied citizenship to many immigrants have struggled to integrate those individuals into society, leading to blocked social and economic mobility. On the other hand, in countries such as Canada that expressly view immigration as a part of their national and economic success, studies find a greater sense of belonging and attachment to the nation among newcomers. Our goal should be the full integration of new Americans, not the creation of a permanent underclass.
5. Forward, not backward, on equality. The United States was founded on the idea that we are a nation of immigrants and that we gain strength from diversity. Over the past half-century—since Congress removed de jure racial discrimination from American life with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965—we have moved toward broader equality and a recognition of the power and strength that diversity brings to the nation. Instead of moving backward toward an idea of America as a country club that accepts some people as full members and rejects others, we must move forward toward greater equality. Creating a group that can legally reside in the United States but can never naturalize, can never vote, and can never become full and equal members goes against the very ideals that founded our nation.