Friday, May 31, 2013

Grover Norquist and the Senate Immigration Bill

Like Grover Norquist?  I don’t particularly, I have to admit.  At least I don’t share his political views on most things (e.g. his goal is to shrink government to the size that it can be “drowned in a bathtub.”)  And I haven’t appreciated his “no tax increase under any circumstances” pledge that has been wrung from members of Congress and the immense power he appears to wield there.   I think government, any government, has a role to make its citizens safe.  It should protect the weakest and give opportunity to everyone, not just the ones with means.   This isn’t to argue for big or small government; only good government.
Nevertheless, I have to applaud his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee as an economist on the subject of comprehensive immigration reform.   We often focus on the moral aspects of immigration law in the U.S., but Mr. Norquist reminds us that the economics of immigration reform are really quite stark in the contrast between a roadmap to legalization for unauthorized immigrants (such as is being considered by the Senate), and an effective enforcement only policy. 
 He cites the Cato Institute study of 2009 which indicated that the incomes of U.S. households would increase by $180 billion per year if a legalization plan like that being considered by the Senate were adopted.   Another study  done for the Cato Institute shows a  $1.5 trillion growth in our gross domestic product over a 10 year period for adoption of a Senate type reform plan.
In contrast, studies have shown that an effective enforcement only model  would cause a $2.6 trillion decrease in GDP growth over the same decade.  Mr. Norquist also cites Douglas Holtz Eakin, former director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, who conducted a study which concluded that significantly increasing legal immigration would boost GDP by .9 points annually.  Economists also estimate that deporting 11 million people would cost the government about $206 billion over 5 year period.   That’s the direct governmental costs of deportation alone.  The damage to the economy of an enforcement only program is much greater if we consider the effect on the GDP as described above. 
Mr. Norquist also pointed to some state examples.  Georgia passed a strong immigration enforcement bill which drove undocumented immigrants out of the state and left crippled the agricultural industry.  He cited $140 million in agricultural losses from one season, with crops left unpicked and rotting in the fields (with some 11,000 agricultural jobs left unfilled).  Georgia even tried to employ ex cons to pick the crops, but that didn’t work either.  Alabama suffered similar results with its (largely unconstitutional) enforcement laws.
In fact, studies show that immigrant workers are not competing with US workers at either the high end or the low end.  Their jobs complement the U.S. work force, and raise productivity and wages across the board. 
Now consider this.  Just a few days ago, more than 100 conservative economists signed a letter from the American Action Forum calling on Congress to approve an immigration overhaul, which includes a roadmap to legalization, highlighting the economic benefits to the country.
You may not like the moral implications of giving opportunity to those who came here without authorization.  I would argue that there is a higher moral calling to allow families to remain together and show hospitality to strangers and compassion for our neighbors.  We might disagree on this issue, but on the economic benefit to the U.S. of a better immigration policy, which includes a roadmap to citizenship for those willing to jump through the prescribed penalties and hoops, the conclusion from an economic perspective is inescapable.  Reform is better in every respect for America.