Why immigration reform's simplest question has no easy answer (+video)
How many new foreigners will come to the country if the Senate immigration reform plan passes? One study says it could add more than a million a year, another says it will reduce the inflow.
The Senate’s bipartisan legislation will modestly reduce the flow of foreigners coming into the country in years to come by widening legal immigration channels but cutting off the flow of illegal migration, according to an analysis prepared by the liberal Center for American Progress released Wednesday.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The CAP analysis is a rejoinder to tabulations done by groups opposed to the immigration measure, which have posited that the plan could lead to as many as 30 million more people becoming permanent US residents during the next 10 to 15 years than might have without the reforms.
These calculations are "an attempt to scare the public,” write the authors of the CAP report. "In reality," they argue, "approximately 150,000 fewer people will enter the country each year under the Senate plan.”
RECOMMENDED: Could you pass a US citizenship test?
Answering the question of how many new immigrants the Senate plan will bring to the US is central to its prospects. Estimates of new Americans not only touch on the cultural fears of some conservatives and economic fears for some job-seekers but also to the hopes of businesses, who want more entrepreneurial and scientific talent. The new CAP figures suggest that liberals are no longer willing to let conservative groups dominate the conversation.
"You have people like [Republican Sen.] Jeff Sesisions and Numbers USA putting out these wild estimates," says Phil Wolgin, a senior immigration analyst with CAP. "Here’s the reality: We’re taking what has been a chaotic system of unauthorized entry on top of legal entry, and we’re moving unauthorized [immigrants] into legal streams."
Not surprisingly, the dueling studies show starkly different assumptions about how to calculate the future flow of immigrants.
For example, CAP does not count the estimated 11.1 million undocumented immigrants currently in the US and who could achieve legal status (and potentially permanent residence and citizenship). It argued that those people are already in the US and thus aren’t “new” to the immigration stream.
Furthermore, they don’t account for the more than 4.5 million prospective immigrants who are waiting in family- and employment-based backlogs. CAP argues that because those people have already been cleared to receive permanent residency – but are waiting for their turn in a sometimes years-long line to get a green card – they don’t count as “new,” either.
The Senate bill would clear the family- and employment-based backlogs before any undocumented person is allowed to achieve permanent residency.
What CAP does do is add the new ways for foreigners to become US residents under the bill (such as a new “merit-based” system) while subtracting reduced or eliminated visa programs (like the diversity visa lottery). That would boost legal migration by some 500,000 new residents per year, CAP estimates.