Center for American Progress

Legalization Would Have Better Economic Effects than Deportation in Arizona

Legalization Would Have Better Economic Effects than Deportation in Arizona

Arizona’s current approach to immigration policy is economically self-destructive.

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Our national debate over urgently needed immigration reform is now careening through our state legislatures, city halls, and town councils due to political gridlock at the federal level. And nowhere is that debate more contentious than in Arizona, where in April of last year the state’s legislature sought to rid the state of undocumented immigrants with passage of S.B. 1070. The law is specifically designed to trigger a mass exodus of undocumented immigrants from the state by making “attrition through enforcement the public policy of all state and local government agencies in Arizona.”

S.B. 1070 remains unenforced due to legal challenges to its constitutionality by the U.S. Department of Justice, yet nearly a year later the Arizona State Senate appears intent on doubling down on that strategy by passing even more restrictive immigration measures. Among other things, the new push would unconstitutionally require K-12 students to prove citizenship, evict public housing tenants if an undocumented person resides there, and make it a crime to operate a vehicle while undocumented.

This crackdown may play well politically for some local elected officials but is it in the best economic interests of the state? The purpose of our new report, "A Rising Tide or a Shrinking Pie," is to arm state legislators and their constituents across the country with an answer to that basic question. If S.B. 1070-type laws accomplish the declared goal of driving out all undocumented immigrants, what effect would it actually have on state economies? And conversely, what would the impact be on state economies if undocumented immigrants acquired legal status?

The economic analysis in this report shows the S.B. 1070 approach would have devastating economic consequences if its goals were accomplished. When undocumented workers are taken out of the economy, the jobs they support through their labor, consumption, and tax payments disappear as well. Particularly during a time of profound economic uncertainty, the type of economic dislocation envisioned by S.B. 1070-type policies runs directly counter to the interests of our nation as we continue to struggle to distance ourselves from the ravages of the Great Recession.

Conversely, our analysis shows that legalizing undocumented immigrants in Arizona would yield a significant positive economic impact. Based on the historical results of the last legalization program under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, our analysis shows a similar program would increase wages not only for immigrants but also for their native-born co-workers. This would generate more tax revenue and more consumer and business spending, supporting additional jobs throughout the economy.

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