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Engines of economic prosperity
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Republican support for immigration reform focuses mainly on political self-interest. Since 71 percent of Hispanics and 74 percent of Asians voted Democratic last November, it's easy to see why smart Republicans are so concerned.
As Ron Bonjean, a prominent GOP strategist, told Reuters: "If Republicans refuse to pass comprehensive immigration reform, we will become obsolete as a party within 10 years."
But there is another compelling reason for Republicans to get behind the immigration bill now on the Senate floor. That measure, which would eventually legalize millions of undocumented foreigners and attract thousands of highly educated scientists and entrepreneurs, strongly encourages economic growth. And that's exactly the goal Republicans say is their top priority.
Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and possible presidential contender, made this precise point in a recent speech. "Immigrants create far more businesses than native-born Americans," he said. "Immigrants are more fertile ... and they bring a younger population."
A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau forcefully reinforces this point. For the 12 months ending July 1, 2012, more non-Hispanic whites died in America than were born. That has not happened in at least a century and signals a long-term shift.
Republican hardliners continue to repeat the same old tired slogans: that a path to citizenship rewards lawbreakers, hurts American workers and drains the Treasury.
If they want to commit the sort of political suicide Bonjean describes, then fine, that's up to them. But they are wrong on the facts, and their position threatens the economic well-being of the rest of us. Here's why.
Start with the nature of the immigrant workforce. As the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank put it: "Immigrants have different skills and job preferences from native-born Americans, so they ... complement rather than substitute for native-born workers."
Specifically, immigrants earn fewer high school diplomas than established Americans, but more doctorates, particularly in the sciences. Lots of fruit pickers and computer programmers.
When immigrants become legalized, they earn higher incomes and pay more in taxes. Once they no longer have to hide, they can go to school, improve their language skills, qualify for better jobs, move more freely to seek work and bargain more effectively with their employers.
A study from the Center for American Progress, which leans left, estimates that legalization would increase immigrant incomes by 15 percent over 10 years. That translates into $392 billion in additional earnings and $109 billion in additional taxes. The Congressional Budget Office says this surge in economic activity would cut the federal deficit by close to $1 trillion over the next two decades.
If Republicans are really serious about what they say, if they really believe in economic growth, they should support immigration reform.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at