Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

The Economic Impact of Granting Citizenship to Illegal Immigrants

By Josh MarkPublished April 5, 2014

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One of the most contentious debates in American society today is that regarding the citizenship status of illegal immigrants. Opinions from the left and the right offer opposing views regarding the economic impact of a decision to offer citizenship to the immigrants. Without taking sides, I hope to shed some light on the debate from both sides of the political spectrum.
By Josh Mark,  4/5/14

One of the most contentious debates in American society today is that regarding the citizenship status of illegal immigrants. Opinions from the left and the right offer opposing views regarding the economic impact of a decision to offer citizenship to the immigrants. Without taking sides, I hope to shed some light on the debate from both sides of the political spectrum.

            According to a report from the Center for American Progress (CAP), a left leaning think tank, granting citizenship to immigrants here illegally would provide vast economic benefits. In addition to 25.1% increase in wages for the illegal aliens, such legislation would increase tax revenues by $144 billion over the next ten years. Furthermore, 159,000 new jobs would be created, $606 billion more dollars would be contributed to the Social Security trust fund over the next 36 years (enough to support 2.4 million retirees), and the solvency of the Medicare trust fund would be extended for another four years (despite the increase in the number of people eligible for benefits). Finally, CAP forecasts that the US national GDP would be increased by $1.1 trillion over the next ten years.

            However, a report published by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, depicts a gloomier economic outcome. In addition to the arguments that granting citizenship to illegal aliens would not only be rewarding illegal behavior, but also would incentivize more to come to the United States illegally, the Heritage Foundation report forecasts a $6.3 trillion net loss to the US GDP. While it does recognize that this legislation would lead to a $3.1 trillion increase in tax revenues, it predicts that government expenditures on these immigrants through programs such as food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security would total $9.4 trillion over their lifetimes.

            Ultimately, I believe neither side is providing accurate forecasts as to the actual economic impact of granting citizenship to illegal immigrants. While both sides display their methods in their reports as to how they reached their conclusions, both the CAP and the Heritage Foundations adhere to much broader agendas with particular political motivations. In reality, the actual impacts are likely to be somewhere in between the projections of both think tanks. As Mark Twain said, "there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."