Mass amnesty is bad for Americans and legal immigrants
On his first day in office, Joe Biden sent a mass amnesty bill to Congress. Known as "The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021," the bill not only grants legal status to millions of illegal aliens, but also lays out a path for them to obtain American citizenship (in addition to liberalizing and expanding mass immigration).
This may sound like a pragmatic solution to finally "wipe the slate clean" and a compassionate way to give people who are here unlawfully a "break," bringing them "out of the shadows." However, a deeper dive exposes numerous serious problems associated with mass amnesty, for it will harm both native-born Americans and legal immigrants. Indeed, even the beneficiaries of amnesty will likely not benefit as much as they may hope.
As a naturalized citizen, I have looked at amnesty through both an American and a legal immigrant lens. In numerous areas, native-born Americans and legal/naturalized residents have overlapping interests in this and other immigration-related issues. Immigrants come to the U.S. searching for a better life and generally desire the same things as native-born Americans, such as good schools, the rule of law, increasing wages and a rising standard of living, and upward mobility. Unfortunately, a massive amnesty/pathway to citizenship will work at cross-purposes with these aspirations, thereby making it harder for both native-born Americans and legal immigrants to achieve the American Dream.
Amnesty Means More Illegal Migration
The sweeping amnesty that President Biden and the congressional Democrats envision is certain to be counter-productive and encourage further illegal migration. Absolving almost 15 million people living in our country unlawfully of their illegal behavior, and rewarding them with eventual U.S. citizenship, will incentivize more people to come here illegally in the hopes of benefiting from yet another amnesty in the future. This is borne out by history.
The 1986 amnesty that President Ronald Reagan signed was a failure in "wiping the slate clean" and stemming illegal migration. The unauthorized population grew steadily from about 3 million post-amnesty to 14.5 million now. That's almost a fivefold increase! Why should we believe that Biden's much more sweeping and generous amnesty won't encourage another massive rush for our borders and the arrival of millions of new illegal migrants?
This is a particularly relevant question since the new president seems to be quickly doing everything to invite more illegal migration, as evidenced by moves such as halting border wall construction and reversing policies aiming to stop mass asylum fraud.
The High Costs of Amnesty
An amnesty-inspired influx of even more illegal migrants will certainly impact average Americans – native-born or immigrant – because illegal migration is costly, destabilizing, depresses the wages of lower-income people or deprives them of jobs, and brings in its wake increased crime. Legal immigrants will be disproportionally affected since many have settled in metropolitan areas where illegal aliens tend to gravitate.
Legal immigrants will also not be exempted from paying the costs of amnesty. First, at a time of COVID-19-inflicted unemployment, they will face competition in the labor market from millions now able to work legally. This, in turn, will likely make employers even less willing to raise wages for those who do manage to find or retain jobs. And newly amnestied workers will feel the pinch of wage stagnation as much as legal immigrants and native-born Americans do.
Second, since amnestied individuals will become eligible for numerous taxpayer-funded social services, amnesty will lead to increased government spending, thus increasing taxes and the national debt. For example, in 2007, a Heritage Foundation study estimated that amnesty would cost at least $2.6 trillion, and in 2016 Heritage pointed out that amnesty would require an immediate tax increase of $1.29 trillion. Although those are admittedly lifetime costs, they still represent large sums of money that could be spent on other things or given back to the taxpayers in the form of tax cuts.
Unfair To Legal Immigrants
Last but not least, it is unfair to legal immigrants to reward those here illegally with "papers," citizenship, and all the privileges and perks that this entails. Amnesty means that those who came here the right way are being put on the same level as those who cut in line and broke American laws. This would be similar to students who studied hard for an exam receiving the same grade as those who cheated.
The reality is that mass amnesty will not solve the United States' illegal migration headache. The new administration is currently gutting the only policies that can help do that — such as border security, measures against asylum fraud, and serious internal enforcement. Because amnesty and soft borders are an invitation for more illegal migration, we will certainly find ourselves back at square one in the future. What is more, amnesty will also mean that we will be passing down to future generations a diminished and weakened version of the American Dream.
Pawel Stryna is an immigrant from Poland and works as an immigration policy analyst at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
Image: Another immigrant caravan. YouTube screen grab.