WASHINGTON - Passing an immigration reform plan that provides for a pathway to citizenship could create up to 123,680 jobs and boost the gross domestic product by $10.32 billion by 2014, according to a new study.
The report by Regional Economic Models Inc. predicted that Arizona alone would see 3,254 new jobs and an additional $264 million in economic output by 2014 if a pathway to legal status was established. By 2045, those numbers would rise to 19,731 new jobs and a $1.5 billion boost to the gross state product, the report said.
"It's showing comprehensive macroeconomic impacts on a state-by-state basis across all industry sectors," said Frederick Treyz, one of the authors of the study. It was presented Thursday at a Capitol Hill news conference, where a small group of lawmakers and business leaders called for action on immigration reform.
But others charged Thursday that, far from boosting the economy, a pathway to citizenship would actually harm it.
"Just because the economy is bigger, it doesn't mean we're better off," said Derrick Morgan, the vice president of domestic and economic policy at Heritage Foundation.
Morgan said many of those who apply for citizenship would end up costing the U.S. more than they would put back into the economy, and that a pathway to citizenship would hurt the welfare system. Instead of a pathway to citizenship, he suggested the need for a temporary agriculture program and a visa program for high-skilled workers.
"When you're looking at immigration, you have to look at the benefits and the cost," Morgan said. "A lot of the immigration research that's done ignores that fiscal cost."
But Treyz and others disagreed.
"These proposals are about growing the economic pie," Treyz said of comprehensive immigration reform plans.
Treyz agreed that there is a need for expanded visa programs for both high-skilled and lesser-skilled workers - elements of reform that would also lead to additional U.S. economic growth.
Ken Barbic, the senior director of federal government affairs at the Western Growers Association, also spoke at Thursday's event and said that farmers need comprehensive immigration reform.
"Agriculture producers across the country right now need a legal, stable workforce," Barbic said.
He said restrictions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the mandated use of programs like E-Verify hurt the industry. He noted that strict immigration enforcement in Alabama and Georgia has hurt both the agriculture industry and the overall economy in those states.
Agriculture is vital to the economy and it provides a "safe and secure food supply" for Americans, Barbic said.
Thursday's event also included Reps. Tony Cardenas, D-Calif., and Jeff Denham, R-Calif., who stressed the importance of comprehensive reform and its impact on the economy.
Cardenas said he has firsthand knowledge of the importance of a stable workforce in the agriculture industry.
"My father took me out to pick peaches one time. He had me by almost 40 years in age," Cardenas said. "I couldn't keep up with him.
"There's some skill in working hard and working those long hours," he said of the supposedly low-skilled farmworker jobs.
Cardenas and Denham said they hope the House acts soon on immigration reform so that states can see the economic benefits predicted in the report, and so farmers can continue providing a secure food supply to Americans.
"When we set things right, we will catapult our economy forward," Cardenas said.