The Good and Bad of Biden’s Plan to Legalize Illegal Immigrants

Of note:

Recent news reports suggest that Joe Biden will propose a series of immigration bills for Congress to consider early in his administration. The bill with the most details reported so far would legalize the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States. According to the quick news summaries of the possible bill, it is a simple legalization that would grant lawful status, the ability to earn a green card in five years, and citizenship in an additional three to virtually all illegal immigrants currently living in the United States. That is a vastly simpler and cheaper way for illegal immigrants to legalize compared to the expensive and complex schemes of earlier failed reform efforts.

The Good

The good part about this bill is that mass legalization would be very positive for the United States. The United States would benefit from quickly legalizing illegal immigrants who aren’t real criminals and putting them on a path toward permanent residency and citizenship. In the short run, many opponents of immigration will be upset, but the vast reduction in the population of illegal immigrants and their successful assimilation will reduce social perceptions of chaos and increase the perception that the government has immigration firmly under control, all long term benefits for the immigration debate and the country as a whole.

Further, the usual complaints about immigration liberalization would not apply to legalizing illegal immigrants because they are already here. The lower crime rates of illegal immigrants relative to native‐​born Americans and possibly compared to legal immigrants means that we’re not going to see a surge in crime from legalization and may even see a drop in crime as a result. Also, illegal immigrants are already working in the United States with generally higher labor force participation rates than other groups, so legalizing them won’t increase wage competition with American workers because they are already here working.

Furthermore, wages would increase for illegal immigrants after they’re legalized. Work by my former colleague Andrew Forrester and I found that illegal immigrants initially faced a hefty wage penalty of about 11.3 percent relative to legal immigrants during the 1995–2017 period. Although illegal immigrant wages did converge with legal immigrants during that time, and more recent illegal immigrants entered with lower wages penalty than those that came in the past, legalization would hasten illegal immigrant and overall immigrant wage convergence with native‐​born Americans.

The bigger potential effects could be on the government’s finances. Illegal immigrants have limited access to few means‐​tested welfare programs but they already have access to public education. Legalization will increase their access to these programs once they naturalize, but it won’t increase their access to the most expensive outlays like public education. At the same time, their wages will also increase due to legalization and their U.S.-born children will have much higher levels of education and, thus, will likely pay more in taxes than receive in benefits. Therefore, it’s unclear what the net‐​fiscal impact would be and it depends on the time‐​horizon for analyzing those effects.

The good political part of this bill is that Democrats are finally playing hardball on immigration as they will not be presenting legislation already laden with compromised positions. Instead, they will start with a cleaner and simpler bill and then ask what other senators and congressmen need to get on board, which will no doubt be a lot of expensive security signaling along the border. Also, Democrats have finally learned that any pro‐​immigration piece of legislation that they introduce will immediately be called “amnesty” by its opponents, so there isn’t a political downside to introducing a real amnesty. After all, what are proponents going to say? “This time it’s a REAL amnesty” doesn’t carry the same weight.

The Bad

The policy downside of this bill is huge because it has no chance of becoming law in its current reported form. Moderate Democrats like Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema aren’t likely to support it, to say nothing of the ten Republican senators necessary to pass it. A more moderate legalization is obviously better than no legalization at all. One lesson I’ve learned over the years is that we should be less strategic when thinking about immigration reform – if there is an opportunity to legalize some people or expand legal immigration then pro‐​immigration politicians must seize it at that moment rather than trying to think of how doing so makes passing other immigration reforms more difficult. Nobody knows the answer to the long term political consequences, they never have, and we should all stop pretending that we do and instead support policies that we know will be good when we can.

If the hypothesized Biden bill fails then it would also open up other possibilities. Politically, it would be a marker bill that shows where the Democratic Party stands and would be a starting point for future negotiations. That probably doesn’t have much value, but that’s the conventional strategic wisdom that I just told you to disregard in the previous paragraph.

More important is that a failure to legalize illegal immigrants in Congress will give more of a political justification for a Biden administration to take sweeping executive actions to legalize all illegal immigrants by granting them Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Under current statute, a president has the power to grant TPS to any immigrant in the United States if their home country faces a disaster.

Importantly, the statute explicitly mentions “epidemic” as such a disaster, and since all countries are suffering from COVID-19, then‐​President Biden could grant all illegal immigrants TPS. Immigration attorney and former deputy assistant attorney general for the Office of Immigration Litigation at the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil division Leon Fresco thinks this will be legally sound, and he’s probably correct. A universal grant of TPS could be undone by a future president but, at minimum, it would allow some current illegal immigrants to adjust their status to a green card and thus shrink the pool of illegal immigrants.

The major structural legal change to the immigration system under Trump is that the President now has the power to stop all legal immigration from abroad for any reason. The failure of the immigration legalization bill in Congress would allow Biden to test the power of the president to at least legalize illegal immigrants using broad existing statutory authority. Beyond that, there are many smaller actions that Biden could follow that will reduce the illegal immigrant population as detailed here by my colleague David Bier. No president should be making policy by executive decree but no president is likely to give up the power that Congress unwisely granted it, so you should expect many executive and agency actions from Biden here.

Other Legalization Ideas that Congress Should Consider

There are many ways to legalize illegal immigrants. One reform that should be included in the bill regardless of anything else is a rolling legalization that would allow long‐​term illegal immigrant residents and lawful residents without green cards to be granted green cards on an ongoing basis without an application cutoff date and based entirely on how long they’ve resided here without committing any crimes. We proposed just such a reform here based on a portion of British immigration law. This will reduce the potential for the illegal immigrant population to grow in the future.

Another way is to create a tiered legalization system that lets illegal immigrants choose whether they want to be a temporary resident, a quasi‐​permanent resident, or be on a pathway toward citizenship. The less‐​permanent means to reside here should be easier to acquire while the path toward citizenship should be harder. As evidenced by the Reagan amnesty, only 41 percent of the illegal immigrants who got a green card decided to naturalize. There’s no reason to make most current illegal immigrants who don’t want citizenship to be on that track. This proposal is less positive than legalizing all non‐​violent illegal immigrants but will likely be closer to what eventually becomes law.

Beyond legalizing illegal immigrants, the best way to guarantee that the reduction in illegal immigration that an amnesty would accomplish won’t be undone by future waves of illegal immigration is to increase lawful immigration. There’s little evidence that amnesties attract illegal immigrants. The overwhelming evidence is that expanding legal immigration reduces illegal immigration. From 2000–2018, a 1 percent increase in the number of H-2 visas for Mexicans is associated with a 1.04 percent decline in the number of Mexican illegal immigrants apprehended by Border Patrol – a finding that is statistically significant at the 1 percent level. Even nativists agree that legal immigration decreases illegal immigration. Channeling potential illegal immigrants into the legal immigration system will do the most to reduce illegal immigrant inflows in the future that will guarantee that the stock of illegal immigrants doesn’t grow.

The Biden administration has a lot of work ahead of it to undo the large number of immigration executive actions implemented by the Trump administration. Much of that work won’t earn headlines but it will be important for creating a better immigration system. On top of that, it’s heartening to see the Biden administration getting ready to hit the ground running even if their first bill has virtually no chance of becoming law as it is currently envisioned.

Source: The Good and Bad of Biden’s Plan to Legalize Illegal Immigrants

New Research on Illegal Immigration and Crime

Another thorough study of illegal immigration and crime by Cato researchers, using Texas data given Texas keeps immigration status data of those arrested and convicted of crimes:

Andrew Forrester, Michelangelo Landgrave, and I published a new working paper on illegal immigration and crime in Texas. Our paper is slated to appear as a chapter in a volume published by Oxford University Press in 2021. Like our other research on illegal immigration and crime in Texas, this working paper uses data collected by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) that records and keeps the immigration statuses of those arrested and convicted of crimes in Texas. As far as we’ve been able to tell, and we’ve filed more than 50 state FOIA requests to confirm, Texas is the only state that records and keeps the immigration statuses of those entering the criminal justice system. Texas gathers this information because its runs arrestee biometric information through Department of Homeland Security (DHS) databases that identify illegal immigrants. Unlike other states, Texas DPS keeps the results of these DHS checks that then allows a more direct look at immigrant criminality by immigration status.

The results are similar to our other work on illegal immigration and crime in Texas. In 2018, the illegal immigrant criminal conviction rate was 782 per 100,000 illegal immigrants, 535 per 100,000 legal immigrants, and 1,422 per 100,000 native‐​born Americans. The illegal immigrant criminal conviction rate was 45 percent below that of native‐​born Americans in Texas. The general pattern of native‐​born Americans having the highest criminal conviction rates followed by illegal immigrants and then with legal immigrants having the lowest holds for all of other specific types of crimes such as violent crimes, property crimes, homicide, and sex crimes.

Since Texas is the only state that records and keeps the immigration statuses of those arrested, we can’t make a direct apples‐​to‐​apples comparison between Texas and other states (every state should record and keep this information so we can answer this important question). It could be that illegal immigrants in Texas are the most law‐​abiding illegal immigrant population in the country – or the least ­­law‐​abiding. Until other states start recording and keeping the data, we won’t know for sure. But there is much suggestive evidence that the illegal immigrant criminal conviction rate in Texas is comparable to their crime rates across the country.

For instance, the ratio of the nationwide estimated illegal immigrant incarceration rate to the native and legal immigrant incarceration rates is very similar to the same ratios for the criminal conviction rate in Texas. The similarity is evidence that the pattern in Texas holds nationwide, at least to the extent that convictions and incarcerations are correlated. The only way that illegal immigrants could have a higher incarceration rate is if there is something seriously wrong with our method of estimating their total population in the United States and the actual number is much smaller or we are seriously undercounting illegal immigrants who are incarcerated. Neither is very likely, but it’s important to mention the possibility.

We go a bit further in this working paper by looking at how local variation in the illegal immigrant population is correlated with crime rates on the country level in Texas for the years 2012–2018. The relationship between changes in the illegal immigrant population and crime is known as an elasticity. The elasticity between two variables estimates how one variable, the illegal immigrant population here, affects another variable like the number of illegal immigrant convictions or the total crime rate. We control for the number of law enforcement officers per capita. We basically find no relationship. The only statistically significant relationship worth reporting is a negative association between total violent crime convictions and the illegal immigrant share with a point estimate of -0.104 that is significant at the 5 percent level. This exception suggests that a 10 percent increase in the illegal immigrants share of the population is associated with a 1 percent decline in violent crime convictions in our sample of Texas counties.

Our working paper isn’t the only new research on illegal immigration and crime. Christian Gunadi, an economist who recently graduated from the University of California Riverside, examined how the DACA program affected crime rates. Gunadi tested the theory, based on Gary Becker’s crime research, that issuing work permits to young illegal immigrants increases the opportunity cost of committing crime by making it easier for them to be legally employed. Gunadi found, when he analyzed the individual‐​level incarceration data, that there was no evidence that DACA statistically significantly affected the incarceration rate of young illegal immigrants. Gunadi also looked at crime on the state level and found that the implementation of DACA is associated with a reduction in property crime rates such that an additional DACA application approved per 1,000 population is associated with a 1.6 percent decline in the overall property crime rate. That second finding is consistent with the Beckerian crime model.

Other recent research into immigration and crime similarly find no relationship between immigration and crime or a slightly negative relationship, but their methods are not as robust so I don’t place as much weight on them. However, a recent working paperwritten by Conor Norris and published at the Center for Growth and Opportunity used difference‐​in‐​differences and the synthetic control method to see how the passage of SB-1070 in Arizona in 2010, which was an immigration enforcement law, affected crime there relative to other states. It found that violent crime in Arizona increased by about 20 percent under both methods.

Norris’ paper is interesting and worth developing further. For instance, most of the research on the economics of crime focuses on how higher opportunity costs lowers crime rates. In that way, increasing legal employment opportunities can lower crime while making it more difficult for illegal immigrants to work can push some of them toward committing crimes because they’d have less to lose. In 2007, the Arizona state legislature passed the Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA) that mandated E‐​Verify on January 1, 2008. E‐​Verify is intended to prevent the hiring of illegal immigrants. Forrester and I wrote a short blog post showing that the passage of LAWA may have increased the monthly flow of non‐​citizens into Arizona state prisons, but the effect was short‐​lived as many illegal immigrants either left the state or figured out how to get around E‐​Verify.

The above new research and the vast quantity of papers on how immigration doesn’t increase crime and frequently lowers it leads to an interesting question: Why do so many people think that immigration increases crime? The Christian Science Monitor had an interview segment recently where they asked criminologists why so many Americans think immigrants increase crime even though the weight of evidence says that they are less likely to commit crimes than native‐​born Americans. According to a recent Gallup poll, 42 percent of respondents thought that immigrants increase crime, 7 percent thought that immigrants decrease crime, and 50 percent said immigrants didn’t affect crime.

Much of the effect could be that people who don’t like immigration could just ascribe all types of negative behavior to them in order to justify their dislike. This probably explains a lot of it, but it would be a disservice to stop there. We must examine the possible other reasons. Another potential reason is that many people think that immigrant criminals could have been prevented from coming in the first place, so there’s more of a focus on their crimes (availability bias) because many people think that they are more preventable than crimes committed by native‐​born Americans. In that way, many people could think that allowing any crime by immigrants is a choice and that crime could go away at the stroke of a pen. That’s not how the world works and that doesn’t explain why so many people think that crime rates go up with immigration, but if that form of control bias is combined with a conflation between the number of crimes and the crime rate then the mistake is understandable if not based on an accurate understanding of the variables.

Another reason could be that native‐​born Americans who have the same ethnicity as recent immigrants might have a much higher incarceration rate, so the respondents to these surveys lump them in together and conclude that immigrants boost the crime rate. Among native‐​born Americans, Hispanics do have a higher incarceration rate but Asians have a much lower rate. This is further complicated by the fact that Puerto Ricans, who are not immigrants, likely have the highest incarceration rate of any Hispanic sub‐​group in the United States (see Table 1) and it would be quite silly for someone to blame immigrants for the higher Puerto Rican incarceration rate.

There is more and more evidence that immigrants, regardless of legal status, are less likely to commit crimes than native‐​born Americans. However, a substantial number of Americans still think that immigration increases crime. As more evidence builds over time, we can only hope than Americans respond by updating their opinions so that they fit the facts.

Source: New Research on Illegal Immigration and Crime

Texas: Economic benefits of illegal immigration outweigh the costs, study shows

Interesting and significant study but will, of course, not change the tenor of the debates (more sound than the various Fraser Institute studies):

The economic benefits of illegal immigration are greater than the costs of the public services utilized, according to an expert at Rice University’s Baker Institute of Public Policy.

Indeed, for every dollar the Texas state government spends on public services for undocumented immigrants, new research indicates, the state collects $1.21 in revenue.

José Iván Rodríguez-Sánchez, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Baker Institute, investigates the topic in a newly published research paper. He stresses that it’s important to assess both the positive and negative impacts of illegal immigration.

“Undocumented residents have a and impact on the economy, since they pay taxes and fees and constitute an important part of the labor market,” he wrote. “Even if we consider the costs of undocumented immigrants to the state of Texas, the benefits outweigh the costs.”

Rodríguez-Sánchez used Texas as a because “it is one of the most populous states in the United States, with an unauthorized population considered representative of that of the whole country,” according to the paper.

In 2018, the year on which the report is based, Texas had “an estimated 1.6 million undocumented residents, representing 5.7% of the total state population,” according to the paper. Those residents support the economy by working in industries such as construction, agriculture, manufacturing and services—with an unemployment rate of only 5.7% in the state, according to the paper. They pay sales tax and consumer taxes, such as on gasoline and motor vehicle inspections.

In 2018, Texas collected $2.4 billion in state taxes from this group.

“Like any other Texan, undocumented immigrants pay sales and excise taxes when they buy goods and services,” he wrote. “They pay property taxes on their owned or rented houses. Other payments that undocumented immigrants make to the state are related to fees and fines, tuition and utilities.”

The analysis found that illegal immigration cost Texas a total of $2 billion in 2018 through education, health care and incarceration costs. These include associated with public schools, higher education, substance abuse services, immunizations and emergency .

Rodríguez-Sánchez also analyzed the potential impact of deporting all such residents from Texas. “In this case, deportation would represent a shock to the Texan economy,” he wrote.

“If all undocumented workers were deported, Texas would lose more than $41.9 billion in direct employment compensation, defined as pretax salary and wage earnings. The total lost would be $70.3 billion, which represents a reduction of 7.7% in state employment compensation,” he wrote. “If even 20% of this group were deported, the state would lose approximately $8.4 billion in direct employee compensation, and the total impact would be $14 billion.”

The report estimates that tax revenue collected from such residents exceeded what the state spent on them, resulting in a net benefit of approximately $420.9 million in fiscal year 2018.

“This means that for every dollar spent on public services for , they provide $1.21 in fiscal revenue for the state of Texas,” Rodriguez-Sanchez wrote.

Source: Economic benefits of illegal immigration outweigh the costs, study shows

As they build India’s first camp for illegals, some workers fear detention there

The ongoing effects of the Modi government’s citizenship registry in Assam, India:

Across a river in a remote part of India’s northeast, laborers have cleared dense forest in an area equivalent to about seven soccer fields and are building the first mass detention center for illegal immigrants.

Shefali Hajong, a labourer whose name is excluded from the final list of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), poses for a picture at the site of an under-construction detention centre for illegal immigrants at a village in Goalpara district in the northeastern state of Assam, India, September 1, 2019. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

The camp in the lush, tea-growing state of Assam is intended for at least 3,000 detainees. It will also have a school, a hospital, a recreation area and quarters for security forces – as well as a high boundary wall and watchtowers, according to Reuters interviews with workers and contractors at the site and a review of copies of its layout plans.

Some of the workers building the camp said they were not on a citizenship list Assam released last week as part of a drive to detect illegal immigrants. That means the workers could themselves end up in detention.

Shefali Hajong, a gaunt tribal woman from a nearby village, said she was not on the list and will join nearly two million people who need to prove they are Indian citizens by producing documents such as birth and land ownership certificates dating back decades.

If they fail to do so, they risk being taken to detention camps like the one being built. The government says there are hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in Assam from neighboring Muslim-majority Bangladesh, but Dhaka has refused to accept anyone declared an illegal immigrant in India.

Shefali, who belongs to the indigenous Hajong tribe, said she was tense because of the situation.

“But I need to fill my stomach,” she said in the local Assamese dialect as she used a hoe to feed stones into a concrete mixer. She and other workers make about $4 a day, which is considered a decent wage in the impoverished area.

She said she didn’t know her exact age and believed it was about 26, adding that she did not know why she wasn’t on the citizenship list. “We don’t have birth certificates,” said her mother, Malati Hajong, also working at the site.

The camp, near the town of Goalpara, is the first of at least ten detention centers Assam has planned, according to local media reports.

“People have been coming here every other day from nearby villages asking for work,” said Shafikul Haq, a contractor in charge of building a large cooking area in the camp.

The mammoth Supreme Court-ordered exercise to document Assam’s citizens has been strongly backed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government that came to power in New Delhi five years ago. Critics say the campaign is aimed at Muslims, even those who have lived legally in India for decades.

Many Hindus, mostly poor and ill-educated, are also not on the citizenship list released last week.


“Assam is on the brink of a crisis which would not only lead to a loss of nationality and liberty of a large group of people but also erosion of their basic rights – severely affecting the lives of generations to come,” Amnesty said in a statement.

India’s foreign minister has called the citizenship verification exercise an “internal matter”. An Indian foreign ministry spokesman said those not in Assam’s citizenship roster “will not be detained and will continue to enjoy all the rights as before till they have exhausted all the remedies available under the law.”

The federal government and the local Assam government did not respond to questions about the camps.

From Goalpara town, the camp being built is reached by a leafy, narrow road dotted with coconut trees. A shaky wooden bridge takes vehicles across a small river to the site, overlooked by a cluster of rubber trees.

Government guidelines for detention camps released earlier this year include building a boundary wall at least 10 feet (3 meters) high and ringed with barbed wire, local media reports said.

A red-painted boundary wall encircles the new camp at Goalpara, and green fields and mountains are visible beyond two watchtowers and quarters for security forces built behind it.

The camp will have separate living facilities for men and women, according to workers and contractors.

A.K. Rashid, another contractor, said he is building six of what would be around 17 buildings with detention rooms of around 350 square feet (32.5 square meters) each. Each of the buildings he is making will have 24 rooms, he said, adding drains for sewage were being built along the boundary walls of the center.

G. Kishan Reddy, a federal government official, told parliament in July that the government had published guidelines for detention centers which stipulate the construction of basic amenities like electricity, drinking water, hygiene, accommodation with beds, sufficient toilets with running water, communication facilities and kitchens.

“Special attention is to be given to women/nursing mothers, children,” he said. “Children lodged in detention centers are to be provided educational facilities in nearby local schools.”


A senior police officer who declined to be named said the camp would initially be used to house the roughly 900 illegal immigrants who are held at detention facilities in Assam jails.

A group from India’s National Human Rights Commission that visited two of those facilities last year said the immigrant detainees there were in some ways “deprived even of the rights of convicted prisoners”.

India’s top court is hearing a petition for their release.

At the camp site, another woman laborer, 35-year-old Sarojini Hajong, said she wasn’t on the citizenship list either and didn’t have a birth certificate.

“Of course we are scared about what will happen,” she said.

“But what can we do? I need the money.”

Source: As they build India’s first camp for illegals, some workers fear detention there