Granting Legal Status and Citizenship to Undocumented Immigrants Has Economic Benefits

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The movement toward comprehensive immigration reform has accelerated significantly in recent months. A bipartisan “Gang of 8” in the Senate—a group of four Democratic senators and four Republican senators—released a framework for immigration reform on January 28, and the next day President Barack Obama gave a speech launching White House efforts to push for immigration reform. Both proposals contained strong language regarding the need to provide legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country, as well as a road map to full citizenship.

Some lawmakers, however, do not want to extend legal status—let alone citizenship—to the unauthorized. Others have expressed interest in stopping just short of providing full citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, instead calling for a so-called middle-ground option—to leave undocumented immigrants in a permanent subcitizen status. To be sure, the debate over immigration reform has important legal, moral, social, and political dimensions. Providing or denying legal status or citizenship to the undocumented has implications for getting immigrants in compliance with the law, affects whether or not immigrant families can stay in their country of choice, and determines whether they have the opportunity to become full and equal members of American society. But legal status and citizenship are also about the economic health of the nation as a whole.

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