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Friday, Aug 29, 2014
Editorials

Overlooked benefits of fixing our broken immigration system

Published:

The debate over the immigration bill the Senate passed in June is often framed around fairness, or the potential impact the newly recognized 11 million immigrants might have on the job market, wages and the nation’s social services.

Lost in the debate is an argument gaining support from the AARP and the nonprofit National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.

According to the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary, passing the Senate’s immigration bill would be good for Social Security. It would boost reserves, extend its solvency and reduce its unfunded liabilities.

We think that adds a striking economic argument in support of the immigration bill, which is now stalled in the House.

The actuary expects 8 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants would apply for the Registered Provisional Immigrant status the Senate bill provides. Upon obtaining that status those immigrants would be paying into Social Security, even while navigating the 13-year path to citizenship.

That would translate into a $284 billion increase in the Social Security Trust Fund over a decade, ensure solvency through 2035 and reduce Social Security’s unfunded liabilities by $500 billion.

By the actuary’s estimates, it would add $64 billion in tax revenue to Medicare and increase the size of the economy by a percentage point by 2017.

It would also slow the declining ratio of workers paying into the system per beneficiary, which stood at 4.9 workers per beneficiary in 1960 and now stands at 2.8 workers. Without changes, that number is expected to drop to 1.9 by 2035.

In Florida, more than 4 million residents receive Social Security benefits, with an economic impact on the state of $4.5 billion a month. It’s difficult to say how many of those 8 million newly recognized immigrants would reside in Florida, but it’s safe to say a positive impact on the economy could be expected.

“One of the most compelling reasons for the U.S. House to pass immigration reform is to strengthen Social Security,” says U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa who supports the measure that Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio helped develop.

The legislation is wrongly derided as providing amnesty for undocumented workers when in fact the status quo allows those here illegally to continue to break the law.

The immigration bill, in contrast, provides a tightly controlled path toward citizenship for those willing to wait 13 years and learn English and who have no criminal record. It strengthens border security.

We hope the significance of the actuary’s estimates is recognized by House Speaker John Boehner, and by a majority of the House members who now hold the fate of the immigration bill in their hands.

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