Dollars and sense: Immigration reform shown to help the economy

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To great fanfare, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill earlier this summer with bipartisan support -- and for a moment it looked like the do-nothing Congress might do something important. But then it went to the Republican-controlled House and nothing much has happened since.

The House majority resents being pressured by the Senate, it is hard-wired to dislike anything the Obama administration supports, it resists anything that suggests amnesty for illegal immigrants and many of its members represent districts where the Hispanic population is small enough not to matter to them.

To protect their political flanks against a Hispanic backlash in future presidential elections (as happened in 2012), some Republicans stand ready to pass piecemeal legislation such as giving immigrants who came here as children legal status. But they have little appetite for the comprehensive reform that is widely recognized as needed and overdue.

Now, as members of Congress head off for summer recess, the White House has given them something to consider -- the economic case for immigration reform. As growing the economy is something they profess to want, they should in theory find this neglected part of the debate interesting.

The White House report -- "The Economic Benefits of Fixing Our Broken Immigration System" -- was prepared by the National Economic Council, the Domestic Policy Council, the President's Council of Economic Advisers and the Office of Management and Budget. It makes a persuasive case.

The stereotypical view of many who oppose immigration reform is that those who cross the border without papers are simply seeking government handouts. In fact, the vast majority come to work. So it is entirely logical that bringing 11 million people out of the shadow economy and into the legitimate one can only benefit the nation. If the Senate bill becomes law, the report predicts that the U.S. economy will be 5.4 percent larger by 2033 than under the status quo.

Consider Social Security, which is growing steadily broke for want of enough young workers to support aging retirees. The chief actuary of the Social Security Administration estimates that the Senate bill would add nearly $300 billion to the trust fund over the next decade and extend the system's solvency by two years. And the bill would also help reduce deficits. The Congressional Budget Office predicts that passage of immigration reform would reduce the federal budget deficit by nearly $850 billion over the next 20 years.

The bill's supporters have gone out of their way to answer most of the critics' objections, beefing up security on the southern border, sending illegal immigrants to the back of the line for legal status, fining them and making them wait years for a green card. Now it is shown that immigration reform makes dollars and sense. Will the House still do nothing when it returns?

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