If the United States passed legislation granting citizenship to the undocumented population, Arizona's economy would grow by $500 million in the first five years, according to a report by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
The immigration reform bill passed in the Senate and now in the U.S. House of Representatives could set a path -- although a lengthy, 13 year-long path -- that could grant undocumented immigrants legal status. The report assumes the financial gain that legitimate status could bring to undocumented immigrants in Arizona, excluding DREAMers, starting in 2026.
"Generally speaking," says Mike Slaven, a policy analyst and the study's author, "having more people out of the shadows is better and will increase the size of the economy."
Arizona's undocumented labor force is about 190,000, or about 7 percent of the state's total workforce.
The study eliminates other factors and examines only the impact of granting citizenship to these workers. This group, who labor in the economy's gray areas, are mostly middle-aged men who arrived in the country before 2000 and raise a family on about $36,000 a year.
As has been documented by studying the 1986 Immigration Reform Act passed by Ronald Reagan, "any federal legalization program that broadly gives unauthorized immigrants a permanent status would likely result in a significant boost in earnings for that group," according to the report.
By granting them legal status, the local economy would grow and gain a more competent workforce, which means each previously undocumented worker would generally see a 8 percent to 11 percent increase in their salary.
"They can compete for jobs that only citizens are eligible for," Slaven says. "The other reason is that employers tend to be more willing to invest in skills if their employee is an American citizen."
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The growth would be a result of taxes and investment back into local commerce. And the report rested on $500 million by using a tested equation that figures for every additional dollar a person earns, the state's economy sees a $1.17 return.
The report does not include how a 10 percent increase in salary could stabilize a family, how it could impact higher education rates, or how this would translate into a more skilled workforce -- meaning it's a lowball figure.
To those who gripe that hundreds of thousands of now legal people could snatch up jobs from those born in the United States, Slaven says, the economy doesn't operate like a Craigslist ad.
"It's not like someone comes in and there is a strictly limited amount of jobs . . . having a immigration policy that's more adapted to the labor market's needs is overall more beneficial."