Immigration Reform 2013: Reform Will Not Solve All Problems, But It Is a Start

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

For generations the Statute of Liberty greeted millions of immigrants on their journey to the land of opportunity. Whether it was for life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, individuals throughout the world traveled to our nation in search of the American Dream. It was and is a simple dream: the promise that you will be judged on the basis of your character, and not on the basis of your race, religion, class, or creed. It is the promise that through hard work and determination you can achieve a better life for you and your family. This promise is what motivates immigrants, legal and illegal, to come to the United States. Today, it seems as though the American Dream is slipping away, but we as a nation can fight to reclaim it, and the first step is to pass immigration reform.

For those who do not believe economic inequality is increasing (and surprisingly, 58% of Americans do not), here are a few key statistics to help illustrate the gravity of our nation’s problem. Income inequality, as measured by the Gini index, has been on the rise since the start of the new millennium. Relatively stable during the 1990s boom years, the United States' Gini index has risen significantly since the Great Recession (1.6% in 2011 alone, compared to 5.2% in the prior 17 years combined). 

Our economic “recovery” exceedingly seems to benefit the richest Americans, while the poor and middle class are left behind. The top 1% received 93% of the income gains in the first year of the recovery. Poor and middle-class wage stagnation is a major reason for this. Deregulation, privatization, globalization, erosion of the social safety net, and the destruction of unions have all contributed to an economy that values corporate profits over rising middle-class wages. Corporate profits are 22% above their pre-recession levels, while employee compensation is 3% lower. The result of these trends is the dreadful fact that 80% of American adults will face joblessness or reliance on some sort of government welfare program. 

So you may be asking, what does all of this have to do with immigration reform?  Organizations from across the political spectrum, from conservatives to progressives, claim that immigration reform will benefit the American economy, and low-wage Americans in particular. Illegal immigrants and low-wage workers are in perpetual competition for jobs.  When an illegal immigrant can work for less than the federal minimum wage, this puts poor Americans at a distinct disadvantage. According to the Cato Institute, legalization of low-skilled immigrant workers would increase the U.S. GDP by 1.27%, or $180 billion, largely because immigrants are more likely to start businesses than non-immigrants. A Small Business Administration study found that immigrant-owned businesses tend to have higher sales and are more likely to export good and services than non-immigrant-owned businesses. 

The United States of America is a nation of immigrants that was built upon the millions of individuals who traveled here in search of a better life.  We need to change our immigration system to one that can fulfill the requirements of a 21st century economy. Reform will not solve all of our nation’s problems, but it is a start. It will renew a promise: the promise that together we all prosper, the promise of a thriving middle class, and the promise that America will always be home to the hardworking, the tired, and the poor, yearning for an opportunity to succeed.