Biden Urged to Legalize Migrants as Part of Infrastructure Plan

A group of more than 60 economists urged President Joe Biden to create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in his forthcoming economic and infrastructure plan, arguing it would raise U.S. wages, productivity and tax revenue.

The economists, including President Barack Obama’s former top economist Jason Furman and David Kallick of the Fiscal Policy Institute, which champions liberal economic policies, made the proposal in a letter to the White House obtained by Bloomberg News. Legalizing millions of immigrants -- especially those in jobs considered essential during the pandemic -- would strengthen the economy while providing them with workplace protections, they argued.

“Offering them the chance to earn citizenship will help to ensure that the economic recovery reaches all corners of society, including those that have disproportionately been on the front lines of the pandemic and yet left out of prior relief bills, and establishes a more stable and equitable foundation on which future economic success can be built,” the economists wrote in the letter, which was sent to the White House on Thursday.

The economists addressed the letter to Biden’s top economic adviser Brian Deese and Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients, as well as the president’s picks to lead the White House budget office and Council of Economic Advisers, Neera Tanden and Cecilia Rouse, respectively.

The liberal Center for American Progress, which has been run by Tanden, and FWD.us, an immigration advocacy group founded by technology and business leaders, got together on the letter, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The letter shows that the administration is facing pressure from the left to include a broad range of issues in its so-called Build Back Better package, a sweeping infrastructure and spending plan that Biden proposed during the 2020 campaign. The legislation is expected to follow on the heels of the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” that the president is currently pushing through Congress in his opening bid to resuscitate the economy.

Adding a route to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, however, could complicate passage of the infrastructure bill because most congressional Republicans regard such proposals as improper “amnesty” for people who migrated to the U.S. without authorization.

The letter also demonstrates a willingness among administration allies to break up Biden’s proposed immigration overhaul into smaller pieces, in order to get key parts passed into law. A citizenship path for the roughly 11 million immigrants living illegally in the U.S., including those with Temporary Protected Status and people brought to the U.S. as children, known as Dreamers, is included in a comprehensive immigration plan Biden announced on his first day in office.

Pandemic Work Cited

The economists said that a broad path to citizenship would benefit the economy, but called relief for essential workers especially important. Almost three in four undocumented immigrants in the workforce -- roughly 5 million people -- work in essential jobs including construction, food services and farming, according a study from the Center for American Progress.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has made plain how our public health and economic fates are inextricably tied together, and how harmful shortcomings in one part of our economy affect us all,” the economists said in the letter. “The inverse is also true: conferring citizenship will bring expansive benefits to communities across the country, not only for the individuals directly affected, but for the larger systems — families, and the workforce — that they comprise.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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