Let Them Pay Taxes

Obama’s recent announcement to allow young illegal immigrants a reprieve from deportation has certainly stirred the pot. Now that the topic is back out in the forefront, one must ask; should undocumented illegal immigrants be allowed to obtain work visas in exchange for documentation and taxes?

The largest problem stemming from illegal immigration is that people are being able to receive government benefits without paying taxes. Think of the children eligible for public education, Medicaid, and other forms of assistance. There are also the free-rider benefits we all enjoy: police, sanitation, protection from foreign military and infrastructure.

Yet these people are not paying the taxes that keep these things running. How can we get them to pay taxes? A logical solution is to give them the opportunity to apply for work visas. Most would trade the threat of deportation for the requirement to pay taxes. They wouldn’t become citizens, but who cares? Now they won’t have to serve jury duty, but they can still make a living in the U.S.

The danger of this program is to encourage more illegal immigration. If the benefits to sneaking in illegally outweigh the benefits of legal immigration, then people will choose the former. So, if they just want to work here, they have an incentive to skip the step of legal immigration and go straight to the finish line. For this reason, a reform of the legal immigration system is a necessary accompaniment to any visa program.

The process of becoming a U.S. citizen is broken. While uncontrolled immigration is has problems (criminals immigrating, infrastructure failure and lack of documentation), the process should not be so difficult as to discourage legal immigration. It is like an alcohol tax. If the tax is too high, people will just bootleg and create a black market to avoid it.

In 2011, 694,193 people were naturalized in the U.S., obtaining full citizenship legally. Compare that to around 700,000 illegal immigrants each year, before enacting a path to work visas. So even with the threat of deportation, the process of legal immigration is so lengthy and convoluted that slightly less people chose it over sneaking in.

Obama’s executive action to sidestep congress will allow about 800,000 young illegal immigrants to apply for temporary work visas. On the plus side, these workers will now pay taxes and will have a greater opportunity to excel in America. On the other hand, the stand alone order has undermined the possibility of broader immigration reform. Additionally, the path to legal work will have the effect of raising wages to at least minimum wage. It is hard to measure the effect on workers currently working off the books below minimum wage, as these may be the only jobs available even with the chance to apply for legal visas. Some might not take the government up on the offer because they would have to give up their current job.

Additional Resources:

CNN Obama Administration to Stop Deporting Some Young Illegal Immigrants: http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/15/politics/immigration/index.html

Illegal Immigration Statistics: http://www.illegalimmigrationstatistics.org/illegal-immigration-in-the-united-states/

Department of Homeland Security 2011 Naturalizations: http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/publications/natz_fr_2011.pdf

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