As the representative for a congressional district with the one of the largest percentages of Latinos — California’s 10th, in the Central Valley — I’ve had many people assume that my support for real and effective immigration reform boils down to one thing: votes.
While I can understand that hypothesis, I’d like to offer an alternative explanation that is just as simple: I am working to pass legislation that secures our border, strengthens our economy and fixes our broken system because it will create jobs. Not just for members of our immigrant communities, but for Americans in every district and every state across the country.
An August 2013 study by American Action Network found that immigration reform will add, on average, nearly 14,000 jobs per House district. A July 2013 study by Regional Economic Models Inc. found that reform will add jobs across a wide range of industry sectors, including professional and technical services, health care, real estate, retail and others.
In addition to job creation, effective immigration reform will ensure that everyone pays toward the greatness of America. Many undocumented immigrants currently living within our borders have evaded taxes for years. I support a process which would require all those pursuing legal status or citizenship to pay fines and back taxes, contributing millions of dollars in tax revenue and broadening the tax base far into the future.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said that immigration reform could reduce deficits by $175 billion over the first 10 years and by at least $700 billion in the second decade. That adds up to almost a trillion dollars in deficit reduction in the next 20 years. The CBO has also said that increasing the number of people participating in the legal workforce will produce greater tax revenue through new income and payroll taxes. Through the process I envision, currently undocumented immigrants who earned legal status would receive no public benefits, while paying federal and state taxes and Social Security.
To those who think Republicans cannot support immigration reform simply because we are Republicans — there are few ideas that resonate more with our values than working to increase revenue, decrease our debt and ensure fairness for all. As a party, we all agree that our debt and spending are out of control. We know that we must add young contributors to Social Security or face its impending collapse. Immigration reform is one way to do just that.
I represent many Latino families, and as a member of a Latino family myself, I am familiar with the experience of working within our current immigration system. I helped my father-in-law study for, and proudly pass, his citizenship test.
As an almond farmer in the Central Valley, I am also familiar with the challenges our agricultural industry faces in finding enough labor at the right times to ensure all of our crops can be grown and harvested. A recent American Farm Bureau Federation study report showed that if Congress were to focus solely on enforcement, without addressing the need for temporary workers and without incorporating the current undocumented workforce, agricultural output in a single year would fall by $30 billion to $60 billion.
Having spoken to farmers who were forced to leave their crops in the field due to a lack of labor, I know how important reform for our agricultural visa system is — not only to the farmers themselves but also in keeping food costs down for every American working to feed their family.
The details of the legislation we support will be crucial. We can and should put politics aside to pass effective reform, but we cannot ignore the threat of an activist executive branch both now and in the future to choose on a whim which laws ought to be carried out and which ought to be disregarded. We must work to write legislation that cannot be ignored by this administration or any other. While that will be a challenge, we have a unique opportunity to create jobs, strengthen our economy and make America more productive. We should take advantage of it now.
Rep. Jeff Denham is a Republican from California.