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Published on Aug 25, 2014
Comprehensive immigration reform is crucial to address the recent flood of illegal immigrants across the southern border. AEI Adjunct Scholar Madeline Zavodny explains what needs to be done to fix our broken system.
Transcript: The recent flood of unauthorized immigrant youth across the border has distracted Congress and the American public from the far more important issue of how the United States needs to reform its broken immigration system.
Congress went on recess without passing any laws to reform our immigration system. The House passed a couple of narrow bills aimed at unauthorized immigrant youth, but meanwhile the Gang of Eight’s comprehensive immigration legislation that they passed last year, which would overhaul our system and enhance economic growth, has languished and been forgotten. Here are the three things you need to know to fix our immigration system.
Immigrants make a tremendous contribution to our economy, from PhD scientists and engineers to small business owners, to construction laborers and agricultural workers. At the high end of the labor market, immigrants help drive the innovations and inventions that are crucial to economic growth. On the low end, immigrants—many of them unauthorized—fill physically tough jobs that many Americans are unwilling to do. In short, our economy depends on immigrant workers.
What drives illegal immigration? It’s economic growth. Unauthorized immigrants come here mainly to work. The thing is, most of them would rather come legally, not illegally, but U.S. immigration policy makes it virtually impossible for low-skilled workers to come here legally. We have two temporary worker programs for low-skilled workers that are a disaster—they’re expensive, they’re cumbersome, and so employers are reluctant to use them. Meanwhile, we also make it too hard for high-skilled workers to come here or to stay here after finishing their studies. The backlog for green cards can be years or even decades for these workers.
We need comprehensive immigration reform that reshapes the entire immigration system to make it more flexible, more market-driven. Our country needs a better way to deal with unauthorized illegal immigration than just deportations and stricter enforcement like the Republicans are suggesting or temporary reprieves from deportation like President Obama has done. Instead we need a comprehensive immigration reform that’s going to include employment verification, more border security, but most importantly, a way for people who want to work here and contribute to our economy to come legally.