Others argue there are benefits to legalization. Opening a pathway to citizenship for nearly 11 million people, seven to eight million of whom participate in the labor force, is tantamount to “an economic stimulus,” according to Giovanni Peri, an economics professor at the University of California, Davis.
Between 2005 and 2015, new immigrants accounted for nearly half of the growth in the working-age population, and in the next two decades, immigrants will be key to replacing retirees. Demographers say a shortage of blue-collar workers highlights the need for immigrants, in ever larger numbers, to perform low-skilled jobs. About five million of them work in jobs designated as “essential” by the government.
Among the biggest backers of the Biden initiative are employers who rely on immigrants. Through the years, dairies, packing plants and other worksites have been caught up in immigration raids targeting unauthorized workers.
The Reagan-era amnesty in 1986 caused only a temporary drop in the number of undocumented immigrants because it was not accompanied by a robust system for legally bringing in low-skilled workers. Employers faced fines for knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants but were not responsible for vetting documents presented by job applicants, spawning a huge industry of fake Social Security numbers.
“The principle is simple: If you carry out a broad legalization, it doesn’t freeze undocumented migration flows as long as labor demand persists,” said Wayne Cornelius, director emeritus of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego.
The illegal influx began to swell again in the early 1990s.
Economic imperatives prevailed, driving illegal immigration up year after year.
A building boom in Sun Belt states drew hundreds of thousands of undocumented construction workers. And as farm workers who had benefited from the amnesty aged and exited the fields, young undocumented labor arrived to replace them.