A time for reflection and immigration reform

After a yearlong effort of immigration advocacy -- including 74 one-on-one lobby visits by the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda team and hundreds of thousands of postcards from members of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) -- a monthlong Fast for Families by members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) raised awareness of advocates’ resolve to secure common-sense immigration reform and Congress’s inaction on the same. While many believed this would be the year for common-sense immigration reform, Congress let the Senate’s bipartisan bill along with its multiple economic benefits fall by the wayside, as ideological-based arguments over the Affordable Care Act and a subsequent shutdown consumed Capitol Hill.

Unlike the 16-day shutdown, which took more than $20 billion out of the economy, passing a common-sense immigration reform bill would actually address the budget deficit in a way that is fair, sensible and widely supported.

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Immigration reform would reduce the federal deficit by $200 billion over the next decade and about $700 billion in the second decade, and this bill would also help sustain Social Security.

Immigration reform would bolster Social Security by allowing more workers to contribute payroll taxes to its trust fund. Currently, undocumented workers contribute about $15 billion a year to Social Security but they don’t receive benefits when they reach retirement age due to their undocumented status or, in some cases, migration from the United States.  The system could collect far more if more undocumented immigrants received legal status and could actively participate in our economy.

As legal status is granted to current undocumented workers, contributions to the Social Security program will increase. The Social Security Administration estimates the Senate’s bipartisan bill would add more than 6.5 million taxpayers over a decade, generating more than $275 billion in revenue for Social Security, while costs would increase by only $33 billion, resulting in a significant net benefit.

Without immigration reform, millions of undocumented workers are at risk of being deported, ultimately shrinking the nation’s labor force. This loss would place a significant strain on Social Security at a time when 10,000 baby boomers are retiring every day.  With more and older Americans relying on the system for the bulk of their retirement income we should be looking at ways to prop up the trust fund, instead of cutting its hard-earned benefits. 

Passing a common-sense immigration reform bill will also allow millions of undocumented workers an opportunity to pursue every aspect of the American Dream including a dignified retirement. For far too long, immigrants, both young and old, have quietly worked in the shadows, contributing to a system they aren’t allowed to use. This lack of opportunity goes against America’s founding principles. 

Although 2013 is quickly coming to a close, it’s not too late to give undocumented workers and their families hope for the future. We urge Congress to commit to a New Year’s resolution of passing a common-sense immigration reform bill.

Sáenz is SEIU International executive vice president. Dominguez is executive director for Latinos for a Secure Retirement.