By Selene Capparelli

The US immigration system has been badly broken for many decades.  Mass deportation, enhanced border security, and keeping undocumented workers in perpetual illegal status have been proven to be very costly and ineffective methods to handle the constant influx of new immigrants.These policies result in hundreds of border-crossing deaths each year, abject working and living conditions for those who successfully enter the country, and depressed wages for many low-skill domestic workers.  Undocumented immigrants, however, represent vast untapped potential for economic growth in the US. Bringing them into the legal labor market will boost entrepreneurship, grow the economy, create jobs, and increase spending power.9677860897_f505b6254c_b-1024x683

Unauthorized workers already pay sales and property taxes, yet providing them with legal status would increase their tax contributions by an estimated $2.2 billion per year. Low-skilled workers would be able to fill the positions Americans do not want while earning a fair wage. Currently their illegal status subjects them to potential exploitation and abuse by unscrupulous employers. Meanwhile, highly skilled immigrants will bring much-needed scientific and technical help to our industries while creating jobs. Bill Gates reported in 2008 that, on average, for every H1-B (visa for foreign professionals) worker Microsoft hired, four jobs were created in a supporting capacity.

Furthermore, immigrants are exceptionally entrepreneurial. Studies have shown that they are 30 percent more likely to start a new business and three times more likely to file a patent than native-born Americans. Forty percent of the companies on the Fortune 500 list in 2010 had been founded by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. The competition created by immigrants may also incentivize natives to perform better. According to a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, greater rates of immigration coincide with a higher percentage of American natives graduating high school.

Moreover, an economic analysis published in 2014 has concluded that adopting comprehensive immigration reform would increase wages, raise tax revenues, increase consumption of consumer goods, and create jobs. Granting legal status to unauthorized workers is expected to increase their wages as well as those of native-born Americans. It would increase GDP by 0.84 percent annually, totaling $1.5 trillion in additional income over 10 years.

The Florida House of Representatives passed a bill earlier this month that would force local police and government employees to act in place of federal immigration agencies by identifying and detaining undocumented workers and students. Failing to do so would cause them to be penalized in the form of fines of up to $5,000 per day.  It should not be the responsibility of our local public officials to implement federal immigration policy. This represents a breach in the trust between residents and public service professionals like teachers and police officers — a trust which is an essential thread in the fiber of a free society. Crime rates may actually increase because people will be reluctant to report crimes for fear of being deported. This bill may well weaken cooperation between state officials and local communities and perpetuate a cycle that prevents immigrants from flourishing and contributing to our economy.

Continuing to adopt legislation that alienates and persecutes immigrants or current citizens suspected of being undocumented is misguided and reckless. These populations should be given the chance to contribute and assimilate into our communities using an efficient and reasonable legal framework. These measures will foster economic and social progress in a way that reflects American values.

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