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Immigration reform’s crossroads to impact Arizona’s economy

After years of
barreling down the
rough road of contentious
debate, which
was destined for
repeated dead end,
the nation finally appears
headed toward
comprehensive immigration
reform —
including a pathway
to citizenship.

Obstacles obviously remain before
reaching that coveted destination, but
newfound civil dialogue and consensus for
resolving the legal status of 11 million undocumented
residents appear promising.

All indicators are that the nation is on
way to establishing long-lasting federal
immigration public policy that is both
humane and pragmatic.

There are, however, important details
to be worked out, not the least of which is
clearly defining the consequences of the
crossroads that many individuals and families
soon will face: Which road to take?

Do they take the longer, more costly
route for a pathway to U.S. citizenship?
Or do they take the short cut, settling
for legal residency to end the very real
threat of deportation?

No doubt such a decision will be an
individual one, depending on a family’s
circumstance. Just as certain is that the resulting
impact will be collective, especially
in a state such as Arizona where there are
perhaps 190,000 undocumented workers.

A new report by Morrison Institute
Latino Public Policy Center uses various
data, established formulas and straightline
projections to illustrate the ripple
effect such a decision will have overall on
Arizona’s economy.

Citizenship or Something Less? Economic
Implications for Arizona, which is
available at MorrisonInstitute.asu.edu/
Latinos, notes: A reasonable, conservative
estimate is that a path to citizenship could
mean about $174 million to $246 million
in additional individual income a year in
Arizona, and these additional earnings
would go mostly to low-income families,
making them more financially secure.

When including the state multiplier
effect of $1.17 economic impact per additional
$1 in income, the actual impact for
Arizona would be closer to $300 million
per year as a result of U.S. citizenship.
Again, these are conservative estimates.
The report, researched and written by
policy analyst Mike Slaven, takes several
factors into account, including that not
all undocumented residents will choose
citizenship even if offered, as well as the
fact that simply having citizenship status
doesn’t automatically translate into a better
income.

But there is ample evidence that citizenship
does provide better opportunity for
individuals, which in turn usually results in
elevating the quality of life — for both the
individual and state.

In short, Arizona would benefit exponentially
according to the number of
undocumented workers who pick U.S. citizenship
over simple legal resident status,
should those two choices be offered.
The road to citizenship, however, can
be frustratingly long, cumbersome and
costly. The quickest pathway to citizenship
being discussed is about 13 years, with
other estimates going several years beyond
that for Arizona’s estimated 360,000
undocumented residents (both workers
and non-workers).

There also are political factors at play,
including attempts to steer public policy
and affected individuals one way or another
regarding eventual legal status.

But there are economic factors to be
considered as well, with the impact of
such a crossroads decision resonating for
all and for many years to come.

Joseph Garcia is Director of the Morrison
Institute Latino Public Policy Center.