The debate over immigration reform in the House and the Senate is an interesting lens to examine the future of austerity.
How so? Immigration is about immigration; secure borders, global migration pattens, and a path to citizenship for more than 11 million people living in the United States without a legal status. The Senate bill is a compromise that calls for an unprecedented buildup of border security, some 20,000 new agents, in exchange for that citizenship route. (Borrowing language from the Iraq war buildup, Senators are calling it a “surge.”)
Think about what that means: The United States can’t afford to invest in education, health, or infrastructure, but it can spend big bucks on border security. The Congressional Budget Office scores the cost side of the ledger in the Senate bill this way: “Appropriate $46.3 billion for expenses related to the security of the southern U.S. border and initial administrative costs.”
The Senate compromise also limits eleven million people’s right to participate in the health care system, while, at the same time, taxing them for services not rendered. This part of the bill is just mean. The CBO says “the net budgetary effect of decreasing the number of unauthorized residents would be relatively small—the small savings for Medicaid, child nutrition, and refundable tax credits would be more than offset by a slightly larger reduction in revenues paid by, or on behalf of, unauthorized residents.”
But at least the Senate bill is not all about costs. Despite what immigration critics say, historically immigration has always boosted the U.S. economy. (It’s not even a close call.) The CBO says the Senate bill would decrease the deficit by $158 billion in the next decade. That’s probably understating the economic benefit of moving undocumented workers from off-the-book jobs into the mainstream economy.
The House approach to immigration reform is to break apart the coalition of security in exchange for citizenship. Louisiana’s Rep. John Fleming said in The Hill newspaper that one reason Republicans oppose the Senate's immigration bill is because they don't trust President Obama to enforce the border enforcement provisions in that bill. (Even though Obama won’t be president when most of the law kicks in.) (more…)