In Sequester Panic, Don't Lose Sight on Immigration

Liberals and conservatives should see the economic benefit of reaching a deal on immigration reform.

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South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is expected to introduce the Senate version of a bill that promotes abstinence.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is expected to introduce the Senate version of a bill that promotes abstinence education.

Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham are set to meet with President Obama today in an effort to revive a push to fix the country's broken immigration system. We should all hope the men can find a way to make reform a priority.

In the aftermath of last November's elections, it appeared the time was finally right for the two parties to come together on this issue. Conservative pundits openly cast doubt on Republicans' ability to win seats in the future unless we liberalize our views about how to deal with the millions of undocumented immigrants already in this country—and the millions more around the world who yearn to join them. Then, in late January, a bipartisan coterie of senators unveiled a framework they hoped would guide negotiations toward an overhaul of our immigration laws.

[See a collection of political cartoons on immigration.]

Yet in recent weeks the issue has largely fallen by the wayside, replaced by buzz around the automatic spending cuts scheduled for March 1.

It's far from surprising that sequestration would surpass immigration as the topic on everyone's mind: In polls, the public consistently names economic issues as most important, and the question of how best to strengthen the nation's flagging economy is tied closely to feelings about what ought to be done about the sequester. One side sees reducing federal spending as the only way to get the private sector growing again, while the other worries sudden cuts could tip the nation back into recession. In either case, our next steps determine whether economic outcomes will improve or deteriorate in the coming months and years.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

What not enough people realize is that immigration too is an economic issue. This is why business leaders and investors are leading the charge for a more open immigration system. They understand that economic flourishing depends on access to high-skilled labor, and that importing that labor makes everyone better off.

But bringing in more low-skilled workers is good for the economy as well. Efficiently produced goods and services cost less, freeing us to spend our time and resources on other, more valuable pursuits. This is particularly helpful for the poorest Americans, who today can afford greater varieties of food and clothing at lower prices than at any time in history.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Is the Senate's Immigration Deal a Good Plan?]

Perhaps more important is the impact that allowing a freer movement of people from country to country would have on the developing world. A study by Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development estimates that an opening of borders could double global economic output by helping to bring workers of every skill level to the markets where their labor is most needed. Keeping borders closed, the paper says, is the moral equivalent of walking past trillion dollar bills on a sidewalk. Few proposals can match immigration liberalization for the sheer audacity with which it purports to be able to lift billions out of poverty—all while bringing a higher standard of living to our own shores.

Now that's a policy liberals and conservatives alike should be able to get behind.

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