A UCLA study published today found that providing citizenship to all unauthorized immigrant workers in the United States would add at least $1.5 trillion to the American economy and $367 billion in federal and state tax revenue over the next decade.
By comparison, granting citizenship only to the members of that group who are considered “essential workers” — including in agriculture, retail and construction — would generate an additional $1.2 trillion to the nation’s gross domestic product and $298 billion in tax revenue over the same timeframe.
Granting citizenship only to people covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA, would generate $112 billion in GDP and $28 billion in tax revenue; and granting citizenship only to recipients of Temporary Protected Status would account for $62 billion in GDP and $16 billion in tax revenue.
The study is a collaboration among the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Initiative, the UCLA North American Integration and Development Center and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. Its publication comes as Congress and the Biden administration are considering ways to move forward on immigration reform.
“When it comes to immigration policy, we want to highlight that there is a risk that excluding some people from immigration reform will come at the expense of the economy,” said Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, director of the North American Integration and Development Center and a faculty affiliate of the Latino Policy and Politics Initiative. “Keeping immigrants in the shadows stymies economic growth, slows down job creation and hurts local economies, making it a political play that hurts all of our pocketbooks.”
During the 2020 presidential campaign, then-candidate Joe Biden promised his policies would include a path to citizenship for the nation’s estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants. But because of Congress’ repeated failures over the past two decades to pass broader legislation that would provide citizenship to all unauthorized immigrants, members of Congress have, in the past two months, introduced multiple standalone bills to address specific aspects of immigration policy.
Those piecemeal reform proposals would grant citizenship to certain groups of unauthorized immigrants — those covered by DACA or Temporary Protected Status, for example — while excluding others.
According to the UCLA report, any immigration reform that excludes certain groups of immigrants from earning citizenship would mean forgoing billions of dollars in economic output and tax revenue, and the potential for creating tens of thousands of jobs.
The authors write that the legal protections that come with citizenship, along with the wider access to jobs and economic opportunities, would produce a 25% increase in wages, on average, for unauthorized workers. The anticipated increase in wages that would fuel further economic activity, which in turn would lead to increases in economic output, tax revenue and job creation.
As the Biden administration and congressional leaders consider how to move forward with immigration reform, the report offers a data-backed look at how their decisions could influence the nation’s economy, said Rodrigo Dominguez-Villegas, research director of the Latino Politics and Policy Initiative and a co-author of the study.
“At a time when Latinos have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, largely due to their role as essential workers, the study makes it clear that implementing comprehensive immigration reform is both an economic and moral imperative,” Dominguez-Villegas said. “If the economy is truly the priority, it’s clear that exclusionary policies are costly compromises.”