Immigration can speed economic recovery

April 10, 2009

 Diana Furchtgott-Roth

– Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. –

It’s welcome news that President Obama will turn his attention to immigration reform this year, as was announced on Wednesday by Deputy Assistant to the President Cecilia Muñoz. Economic recovery will happen more quickly if both high- and low-skill immigrants are permitted to enter the United States and work legally.

Two years ago, when Congress was considering comprehensive immigration reform, both President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers and the Congressional Budget Office, headed by Peter Orszag, an economist closely identified with the Democratic Party, estimated that the benefits of additional immigrants outweighed the costs. If Congress allowed more immigration, then American taxpayers would come out ahead financially.

Yet, after Congress refused to pass President Bush’s plan to allow most undocumented workers to receive work visas and wait in line for citizenship, the Bush administration’s immigration policy deteriorated into a series of arbitrary raids on different companies, rounding up undocumented workers and deporting them, in many cases separating husbands and wives, parents and children.

We can do better. Although the unemployment rate reached 8.5 percent last month, the jobs are going to come back, and, as has been the case in the past, native-born Americans will want jobs that are different from those of immigrants, according to economics professor Giovanni Peri of the University of California at Davis.

Congress needs to overhaul immigration law and create an expanded temporary worker program with a path to citizenship, along with more verification to prevent workers from working illegally, and monitoring of tourists and students so that they do not overstay their visas.

A rational immigration policy would have numerous advantages:

  • Undocumented workers would pay taxes to federal and state governments rather than to grey-market check cashing services.
  • Payments for health care through insurance could be collected more easily, rather than burdening hospital emergency rooms with immigrants without health insurance.
  • Foreigners who want to work here could pay the government for visas rather than pay smugglers for unsafe, illicit transportation.
  • Improvements in security. Legal visas and bank accounts would make it far easier to identify and track potential terrorists, dubious financial transactions, and those who simply overstay visas.

A rational immigration policy would solve several real problems the United States faces with regard to immigration. The international economy is tremendously dynamic; our immigration system is not. Temporary workers must spend months applying for admission, and due to the pile-up in April of every year, may not even get a visa.

Few low-skilled workers have a legal and reliable method to enter this country and work legally, and few Americans want to do the jobs, such as fruit picking and cleaning, that these workers want to pursue. And even high-skilled workers trained at U.S. colleges and universities, often at taxpayer expense, might have to wait years and spend thousands of dollars to become permanent residents of the nation.

Mr. Obama might want to consider transferring the authority of setting quotas from Congress to the Labor Department. The Labor Department already has the presumptive authority to judge whether demand for foreign labor is justified, through its foreign labor certifications. If the Labor Department is allowed to determine whether or not a foreign worker would displace a native one, it could also be allowed to calculate visa quotas.

High-skilled workers educated in America ought to be able to stay; otherwise, our investment in their education becomes lost to another country. If the Labor Department determines that a foreign worker would not displace Americans, that worker should not be barred from entering the country due to an arbitrary quota. And people who want to enter this country in order to work in jobs Americans are not willing to take ought to have an easy, legal way to do so.

Mr. Obama has the opportunity to craft a sensible and dynamic immigration system. All Americans should wish him success.


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I agree with most posters. I would suggest that we do a few things before we even consider changing our laws.

First, prior to deportation, all illegals should be fingerprinted and have their DNA recorded in a federal database accessible by ALL law enforcement in ALL jurisdictions. There is no way we can know if these people are wanted for solved or unsolved crimes committed in the U.S.

Second all of their aliases should be recorded with the other info, including criminal records from here and their country of origin, again accessible to all law enforcement.

Third, if they were using a social security number, that number, along with the name it was used under, should be forwarded to credit reporting agencies, to see if it was used to create a parallel person. If yes, the detainee should be held over for id theft charges and, in addition to jail, fined the amount of money the actual owner of the SS# will have wrongly reported due to their actions, be it credit card balances, mortgages, etc. Their credit accounts should be automatically flagged for their protection and the illegal one monitored by the FBI for further activity and prosecution if any exists.

In the interim, the only law that should be changed is the amount of the fine for hiring illegals, any discretion allowed the INS or the courts should be removed, jail and asset seizure should be required if fines are not paid or a payment plan is not worked out or falls into default. A second offense results in seizure of the business. Period.

Then and only then, can we talk reform.

“native-born Americans will want jobs that are different from those of immigrants”

I always wondered where they got this data from. In spite of numerous raided businesses losing the majority of their workers, never did I hear of one of them going under because they couldn’t find anyone to replace their illegal staff.

Somehow I don’t think they hired more illegals. I think they found native-born Americans who were willing to do the work, for possibly an increase in pay over what their illegal counterparts were earning.

Ever see a news story written from this angle?

It seems to me exceedingly irresponsible to advocate an increase in immigration while we are in the grips of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. Liberal economist Paul Krugman has argued that low wage and illegal immigrants create downward pressure on wages (that’s why Americans won’t work those jobs) and put a strain on social services. He further argued that low wage and illegal immigrants do not significantly benefit the American economy. Shouldn’t we find jobs for the unemployed who are already here before offering them to immigrants?

Posted by Robert Sedgwick | Report as abusive

Hello nail, meet coffin…

So much for the Obama administration. A man that would bow to fake, fascist royalty has no clue.

No country can survive with an unbalanced amount of immigrants coming into the country. When we are losing hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans every month, admitting over a million illegal immigrants, assuming they are all going to get jobs, will further unbalance the financial stability of our country and put more people out of work.
This is easily understood by a middle schooler.

Posted by tropicgirl | Report as abusive

Everyone who complains about the COST of keeping immigrants in the US should advocate abolishing all welfare and government-funded social services.

Everyone who complains about terrible WAGES and living conditions should advocate abolishing the federal reserve and the criminal inflationary policies of the government. With natural money circulating we will not have massive boom and bust cycles or out-of-control inflation that forces two or more breadwinners to seek income while abandoning the children to the care of the state schools or unsupervised homes. With stable prices and incomes from natural money (not paper money) Americans CAN afford to pick apples or build widgets to till their heart is content and keep a decent standard of living while they are at it.

At the end of the day immigration is basically about employment, therefore only individual employers/companies should be in charge of hiring anyone they want – immigrant or local. The Feds will never know the appropriate number of immigrants to allow or deny from entry. Only individual companies in each individual community/city can allocate that number of workers efficiently. This efficient allocation will keep our economy running at it’s optimal level. Too many or too few immigrants allowed to join our economy will only hurt our productive capacity. It is IMPOSSIBLE for the Feds to every get that number right.

If there’s no work and no welfare then folks will just have to go home to their native country. If they come and add value to our economy (without committing theft or violence) then they deserve a right to stay.

“Mr. Obama” – more than once.

That’s President Obama to you Diana. Pretentious arrogance does not exclude you from the mandate of using the correct title.

is this person righting this on something. what person who gets a free pass amnesty will work in a field. the only reason they do is because they cant work legally if all of a sudden these employers are made to pay minimum wage will get rid of them and hire more illegals . who will work for less. we have almost ten million workers out of work and it may take years for the jobs to come back this will only start chain migration they have no plans to stop the inflow because they think that they can import a vote and taxes this must be stopped enforce the law stop chain migration then deal with talk about some sort of a immigrant plan

Posted by wtobias | Report as abusive

America doesn’t need anymore people. All we get out of more immigration is more politicians. I wish Reuters would remove this lady from their blogs.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

This is just another example of our democrat administration trying to buy more votes. I’m looking forward to the howling of Obama’s supporters as more and more of them lose their jobs-perhaps then they’ll begin to wise up.

Posted by Kathy | Report as abusive

i keep hearing the crying of separating familys but a country that drive its people away like Mexico because of the way it treats its people they are the ones separating familys by its human rite violations so instead of dealing with this our government with its lack of backbone will not stand up to a tyrant Calderon but instead bows to him and helps him separate even more family we support tyrants and drug lords gang bangers killers and criminals a lot of the arms the drug lords get are sold by the Mexican military guns that our government funded rumor has the drug lords have been offered black hawk helicopters on the black market

Posted by wtobias | Report as abusive

If immigration can speed economic recovery,
why no other countries do that?

Posted by EricSmith | Report as abusive

It’s so disturbing to me, to hear/read all those hateful discriminatory comments. USA should be a civilized country. Americans “should act like one”
We are not a superior race. Europeans are full of immigrants and culturally rich. Where does all the hate come from?
You go take a landscaping job, clean bathrooms for $5 and then you will have something to talk about.
Instead of asking so much from your country, be willing to give something instead. Maybe that’s what USA needs.
People are People!!! No matter of their background, national origin or language. It’s in the constitution the your American forefathers signed. Read it!!!

Posted by Carina | Report as abusive

We’ve heard the conservative position loud-and-clear. How about a perspective from a liberal environmentalist. The population of the country has grown by 50 million people over the last 25 years, largely through immigration. That’s 50 million people that need houses, cars, toilet paper, and everthing else. Millions of acres of farmland paved over. Billions of tons of coal burned to make the extra electricity. More rivers depleted and polluted.

If this is how Ms. Roth thinks growth should work, I strongly disagree.

Posted by R Lucier | Report as abusive

The billion dollar border fence is a waste of money. It will stop low skilled immigrants taking the low paying jobs. But the high paying service jobs like software programming, web design, accounting, legal are going to be outsourced anyway, through the Internet. If labor cannot move freely around the world as capital, then we don’t really have a market economy.

Posted by Elias Magana | Report as abusive

Wow, I can’t believe this. Let’s do the “witch hunts” and burn them all! This makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Let’s focus on 12mil “illegal” people already integrated in our economy instead on 280mil or more workers who trully taking our jobs away! overseas i.e.: customer service workers in India, cheap manufacturing labor in China and list goes on. For example, I am a graphic designer, my work is taken away every day because someone in Philipines can design a magazine page for $10. I can’t, it takes me at least 3 hours to do it and I can not live on $3.30 / hour or less! They can! All you doing is finding someone to blame for our nation’s miserable economy. Even if you think you are right and you manage to deport all illegal people from US you will find out that it did not make any difference! The difference can be only made when our government blocks job outsourcing into the undeveloped countries exploiting their cheap labor and using them as slaves! Holocaust seemed similarly as a good idea at the time but now we all know what a horrible atrocity it was! Do not make the same mistake again! Gather more objective information before you shoot!

Posted by Jason G. | Report as abusive

I am happy to see that all my thoughts and opinions have already been stated. We are a nation founded on logic, not emotion. All your claims play merely on emotions and wishful thinking. There is no factual evidence to support anything you say. Competent thought disproves your argument.

Posted by Alexander | Report as abusive

The vast majority of the people coming in are working age. They don’t come to start getting unemployment benefits or social security, or wait around for plush jobs, or live off their parents. We should stop worrying about foreigners depriving U.S. citizens of jobs they don’t want. Stopping employers from offering low-wage jobs attractive to immigrants will be about as easy as stopping Americans from consuming illegal drugs provided by the cartels. The immigration procedures have been made so onerous and time-consuming that they provide an incentive for desperate people seeking work to simply enter illegally. If they start off illegally, how can we expect them to honor all other U.S. laws? We need to make it far easier for those wanting to work to get here and stay here as long as they want to, provided only that they work. If they need health care, they’ll find more of it back home, and much cheaper than here.

Posted by charles manning (manning120) | Report as abusive

Jeff..I like this quote

Each and every immigrant (regardless of legal status) makes a conscious choice to leave their families or risk being separated from their families.

Posted by vine | Report as abusive

The republicans want the illegals here for cheap labor. The democrats want them here for their votes. It does not matter what the American public wants. (The public no longer controls the bureaucrats in Washington, they control us). The “American” dream died decades ago. There is no dream only existence. Both parents work and pay high taxes which go to places like Iraq, Afghanistan and 2.8 billion dollars in aid for the Pakistani military in addition to the civilian aid–1.5 billion dollars a year for five years and this is only a sample. Obama did not inherit Pakistan’s problems, nor are we at war with them, that is his decision. I don’t think Obama had math at his mighty Harvard. The only math knowledge he has is that he can control anything with enough money. Is it the modern American dream, to bust your ass for a fool. Oh, and don’t forget the ghettos. Like he told Joe the plumber, we must spread it around. If the Mexicans will work for $5.00 a day then we are all obliged to do the same. If we don’t then we are labeled as capitalist. The American dream. Spread it around so that those on welfare are making more than those who support them.

Posted by Old Mo | Report as abusive

it does not sound to me like the majority of voters are for this and its seems like an equall amount of democrats and republicans feel the same now if we could only find a common ground on our other problems but one thing at a time

Posted by wtobias | Report as abusive