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Conservative economists endorse immigration reform bill

May 23, 2013|By Lisa Mascaro
  • Douglas Holtz-Eakin, center, president of the American Action Forum, pictured in April. He says immigration reform will have a positive economic impact.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, center, president of the American Action Forum,… (Bloomberg )

WASHINGTON -- More than 100 conservative economists will call on Congress to approve an immigration overhaul, highlighting the potential economic benefits.

The letter by the American Action Forum, to be released Thursday, is the latest volley from conservative economic thinkers, who have been divided on the immigration overhaul legislation making its way through the Senate.

“Immigration reform’s positive impact on population growth, labor force growth, housing, and other markets will lead to more rapid economic growth,” wrote the economists, including Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the foundation’s president, who is a former director of the Congressional Budget Office and a former advisor to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “This, in turn, translates into a positive impact on the federal budget.

U.S. immigration law: Decades of debate

“It is an opportunity to improve the long-term prospects for economic growth, enhance the skills of the U.S. labor force, and augment the flexibility of the nation’s labor market,” the policy institute's letter says.

In all, 111 economists signed the letter, including R. Glenn Hubbard, a former chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors under President George W. Bush, and Arthur B. Laffer, a former economic advisor to President Reagan.

The economists cited the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office in noting that an immigration overhaul could increase average economic growth over the next decade by 0.1% and reduce the federal deficit by more than $300 billion. 

The Senate’s bill, which would be the most sweeping change of U.S. immigration laws in a generation, has divided Republicans.

Some Republicans are open to the bill’s proposed path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status, while others want to focus on enforcement. Opponents argue that legalization will draw more immigrants who enter the country illegally or overstay their visas.

PHOTOS: The debate over immigration reform

The conservative Heritage Foundation released a report this month that suggested immigrants would be a net drain on taxpayers, costing $6.3 trillion more than they would pay in taxes over their lifetimes.  Many U.S. citizens already pose such a drain, the authors said, and they warned against adding new immigrants to the mix.

Republican leaders in Congress have distanced themselves from the Heritage report, particularly after one of its coauthors was found to have made racially tinged comments. Rank-and-file conservatives, though, have continued to cite the report in making their case against the immigration overhaul.

Twitter: @LisaMascaroinDC

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