Why American Workers Benefit from Executive Action

By Catherine Singley Harvey, Program Manager, Economic and Employment Policy Project, National Council of La Raza

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Kenneth Blackwell’s op-ed on the economic impact of President Obama’s executive action on immigration is yet another example of the fact-free zone that the immigration debate has become.

First, Blackwell’s assertion that there was an attempt to keep from the public the fact that immigrants who get good with the law will get work permits is absurd. That is precisely how our country will derive increased tax revenues from this executive action, and a principal reason the public supports it. While undocumented workers already contribute about $10.6 billion in state and local taxes, the program will increase their income tax contributions by about $2.9 billion in the first year and $21.2 billion in five years.

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Second, Blackwell fails to acknowledge that these immigrant workers are not arriving in the U.S. as a result of executive action. They are already here: more than eight million undocumented immigrants are currently in the labor force. The president’s action means they will be able to work legally, which is a good thing for our workforce overall.

This executive action help prevent unscrupulous employers from gaming the system, undercutting honest employers, and exploiting undocumented workers at the expense of U.S.-born workers. By getting right with the law, immigrants will be better able to stand with their coworkers against violations of minimum wage and overtime, health and safety, and anti-discrimination laws, which will shore up working conditions for everybody. Indeed, temporary legal status will also allow some immigrants to pursue jobs outside of the low-wage sector to better match their skill sets and education, resulting in higher productivity for all. It is estimated that productivity gains from administrative relief will raise wages for U.S. workers by about $170 a year.

We agree with Mr. Blackwell on one thing–the president is no fool. This lawful executive action will generate national security, economic, and social benefits for the country. Legislation is still needed, but the country should not be denied these benefits while House Republican leadership makes up its mind. We can only hope that the incoming Congress will finally deliver a permanent legislative solution so that American workers and our nation can reap even greater economic benefits.

(This was first posted to NCLR’s Huffington Post blog)

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