Arguments Against Comprehensive Immigration Reform

US Capitol Building, National Mall and Northwest Washington at sunrise from Library of Congress, Washington DC, USA
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Perhaps the most widely held objection to comprehensive immigration reform is that it is amnesty for people who have broken the law, and amnesty will only encourage more illegal immigrants to come into the country.

Opponents point to immigration reform efforts during the Reagan administration, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, that granted amnesty to illegal immigrants. That reprieve opened the door to a new wave of illegal migration, opponents say, and so will the plan to allow 11 million illegal residents to stay in the country.

But Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the Senate's "Gang of Eight" who helped fashion the framework for comprehensive reform, makes the case that doing nothing about the 11 million illegal residents is in itself a de facto amnesty. Because the federal government has no realistic capability to deport the 11 million, or to incarcerate them, there long-term residence in the country is virtually assured. Ignoring the problem is a form of amnesty, McCain and other reformers argue.

New Reform Efforts Come With Tougher Conditions

Also, unlike the amnesty provision of 1986, 2013 reform proposals impose stringent requirements on illegal immigrants. They must learn English. They must clear background checks. They must pay fees and taxes. And they must move to the back of the line, behind those waiting to enter the country through the legal process.

Comprehensive reform is unfair to those immigrants who are playing by the rules. Even many immigrant advocates argue that it isn't right to give the 11 million who entered the country illegally special status that is unavailable to other immigrants who are going through the legal process and trying to come here the right way.

But President Obama's plan and the one negotiated by the Gang of Eight both require that the 11 million's pathway to citizenship starts behind those already in line. Both plans reject the idea of expedited treatment for undocumented residents and want to reward those who have been working their way through the legal system.

These illegal immigrants will take jobs from American workers and promote a decline in wages overall, which is bad for the U.S economy. Study after study and anecdote after anecdote have refuted these arguments. They are both factually incorrect.

First, there are tens of thousands of necessary jobs across the United States that American workers just will not do at any price. There are also thousands of jobs that go unfilled because no qualified American worker can be found to do them.

Can U.S. Economy Run Without Foreign Labor?

The reality is that immigrant labor is essential to fill necessary jobs that make the U.S. economy run. States that have enacted harsh laws against illegal immigrants have found this out first hand. Arizona and Alabama, in particular, endured severe damage and costly labor shortages in their agriculture and tourism industries after passing laws designed to drive illegal immigrants out of the state.

Even states without immigration laws are dependent on immigrant labor. In Florida, immigrants are essential to agriculture and the hospitality industries. Tourism would collapse without them.

Undocumented workers have a "negligible impact" on the wages of documented workers that work at the same firm, according to a paper released in March by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. 

Documented workers at firms that also employ undocumented workers earn 0.15 percent less -- or $56 less per year on average -- than they would if they worked at a firm that does not employ undocumented workers, according to the study.

In fact, workers in retail and leisure and hospitality actually earn slightly more money when their firms hire undocumented workers, since having more employees allows them to specialize, according to the research paper.

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Moffett, Dan. "Arguments Against Comprehensive Immigration Reform." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Moffett, Dan. (2020, August 26). Arguments Against Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Retrieved from Moffett, Dan. "Arguments Against Comprehensive Immigration Reform." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 27, 2021).