Study: Legalizing Undocumented Workers Would Be Economic Boon
September 10, 2012

PHOENIX -- As of 2010, there were an estimated 200,000-plus undocumented immigrants working in Arizona. The left-leaning Center for American Progress looked at what might happen hypothetically if every unauthorized worker in the state were deported, versus if they were all granted legal status.

CAP says 100 percent deportation would mean a $2.4 billion hit to tax revenue, and a $13.3 billion decrease in gross state product. Conversely, they found legalization would create an extra half billion dollars in tax revenue for Arizona.

But Steve Camarota of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies says CAP is ignoring the effect on unemployed, low-income legal residents.

"That report is assuming none of these people can benefit by the departure of the illegals, even though what we know about these less-educated folks who aren't working is they mostly work in things like food service, and building cleaning and maintenance, and construction, exactly where the illegals work," Camarota said. "So the departure of the illegals could have a very nice impact on the poorest segment of Arizona's population."

Camarota also argues the legal status of a worker is not what determines their economic impact. "The fiscal problem ... comes from their educational attainment, not their legal status," Camarota said. "Legal immigrants who don't have a lot of education use an enormous amount of social services, because they're eligible. So legalization [of undocumented workers] almost certainly would make the fiscal side of things worse, because now you have someone who's legally in the country but still you haven't changed his educational attainment, which means he's not going to make much money."

But Marshall Fitz, Director of Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress, thinks policy makers should see this as an opportunity.

"The fundamental question is, do we want to try to chart a course where we're growing the economy by providing the people who are here and already part of our economy an opportunity to be more productive actors, or do we want to shrink our economy at a time of economic peril?"

Fitz also warned of the danger posed by the sudden departure of a large, undocumented population.

"Their consumption, their purchase of cars, the rent that they were paying, their purchase of groceries -– all of their economic activity is extracted from the state's economy," Fitz said. "When you have that diminished demand, you also start to lose other jobs."

The Center for American Progress also examined six other states, including Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada, and says undocumented workers have a similarly dramatic economic impact in those states as well.