Now that the federal government has “reopened,” I hope the House of Representative will turn its attention to passing meaningful legislation including immigration reform. As recent polling results reflect (no doubt surprising to some of our politicians), a substantial majority of Oklahomans favor such reform. This includes a path to citizenship for gainfully employed unauthorized aliens who agree to pay their taxes, learn English and don't have criminal backgrounds.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the Senate version of such a bill passed in June would reduce the federal budget deficit by approximately $1 trillion over 20 years. Others think it would be much more.
The foreign-born share of Oklahoma's population was two-and-a-half times more in 2011 than it was in 1990, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nearly 1 in 9 Oklahomans is now Latino or Asian, according to the Census Bureau. Unauthorized immigrants comprised roughly 2 percent of the state's population in 2010, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center. Oklahoma's 7,663 Latino-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $1.7 billion and employed 8,940 in 2007, the last year for which data is available. The state's 6,736 Asian-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $1.8 billion and employed 15,673 that year, according to the Census Bureau's Survey of Business Owners.
How would this state benefit from immigration reform? “If all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Oklahoma,” according to a report by the Perryman Group, “the state would lose $580.3 million in economic activity, $257.8 million in gross state product, and approximately 4,680 jobs, even accounting for adequate market adjustment time.”
Unauthorized immigrants in Oklahoma paid $81.1 million in state and local taxes in 2010, according to data from Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy. The amount includes $13.3 million in state income taxes, $8.4 million in property taxes and $59.4 million in sales taxes. According to Regional Economic Models Inc., a set of reforms that provides a pathway to earned citizenship and expands a high-skilled and other temporary worker programs would boost Oklahoma's economic output by $290 million and create nearly 3,500 jobs in 2014. By 2045, the boost to Oklahoma's economic output would be around $1.7 billion, in 2012 dollars.
The 2012 purchasing power of Latinos in Oklahoma totaled $7.2 billion — an increase of 907 percent since 1990. Asian buying power totaled $2.9 billion, an increase of 587 percent since 1990, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.
Proposed immigration reform legislation pending in Congress contains many other economic plus provisions for the state and nation. These include encouraging highly skilled immigration in shortage areas of our economy (scientists, professionals and entrepreneurs) plus additional border protection measures and much stronger enforcement disincentives against hiring unauthorized immigrants in the future. Its passage should be not only be a moral imperative but the economically smart thing to do.
Winningham is a principal with the Oklahoma City law firm Winningham, Stein and Basey.