Editorial Board

How to Enrich Immigrants and the States

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Photographer: JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

A big part of the case against President Barack Obama's immigration policy, led by Texas, is that it imposes undue costs on states. But as the Supreme Court considers the policy -- arguments are expected in April -- it ought to consider the benefits as well.

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Two new pieces of research detail those benefits. For undocumented immigrants, Obama's plan would raise incomes and decrease poverty. And for state and local governments, the changes could increase tax revenue by more than $800 million.

Obama's executive actions on immigration would provide temporary relief from deportation and enable qualifying immigrants to gain work authorization. Issued in 2014, they are designed for parents of legal residents and undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. A federal court temporarily blocked the program in February 2015, an appeals court upheld the ruling in November, and last month the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Texas and 25 other states argue that Obama's plans impose vague but "substantial costs" -- for health care, law enforcement, education, even issuing driver's licenses. This argument falls apart when you look at U.S. Census data, as researchers at the Migration Policy Institute and Urban Institute did.

The vast majority of the 3.6 million undocumented immigrant parents eligible for the program have lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, and roughly 85 percent of their minor children are U.S. citizens. If the parents were authorized to work, average annual family income would rise by 10 percent, or about $3,000. Poverty among these families would decline by about 6 percent. Nor would this cost Americans jobs, because most eligible men are already in the work force.

None of this should come as a surprise. Numerous studies have found that legal work status or citizenship for undocumented immigrants would unleash entrepreneurial energy and free immigrants to invest in businesses, homes or simply their own human capital to elevate their station. New York, California and 13 other states argue that their economies would gain if undocumented immigrants gained lawful employment.

Since 2013, when the House of Representatives failed to follow the Senate and pass comprehensive immigration reform, roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants have been in limbo. Many of these immigrants are working. They just aren't working in properly regulated workplaces, with regulated pay. Too many are unable to fulfill their economic potential and live under the persistent threat of deportation.

Before the Supreme Court accepts the dubious economic arguments put forth by Texas and its peers, it should look long and hard at the voluminous evidence that rebuts it. Keeping people in limbo, it turns out, is expensive.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.