Students march for the DREAM Act

DREAM Act for Immigrants: Lessons From the Past

Students march for the DREAM Act

One recipe for wisdom is experience mixed with reflection. That’s why it’s important to consider the past when we’re making decisions. As we form opinions and encourage Congress to vote on the DREAM Act, we would be wise to reflect upon lessons learned from a past immigration bill with an important similarity to the DREAM Act.

The Two Bills

The DREAM ACT: What is the DREAM Act? Legislation that would allow qualifying, undocumented youth to be eligible for a 6 year long conditional path to citizenship that requires them to complete a college degree or two years of military service. It is stalled in Congress but could become law this year.

If Congress passes the DREAM Act, then many immigrants who were brought into the U.S. before they were sixteen will have the opportunity to live and work here legally.

1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA):

IRCA made it illegal for U.S. employers to hire undocumented immigrants, but it also offered amnesty to millions of immigrants who were already in the country.

What they have in common: The authors of both the DREAM Act and IRCA created ways for millions of undocumented immigrants to achieve status as legal residents and workers.

How did IRCA effect the U.S. economy? What economic lesson from this past experience is applicable when we consider the potential impacts of the DREAM Act?

IRCA demonstrated that legalization allows previously unauthorized workers to earn higher wages and get better jobs.

  • University of Michigan economist Sherrie Kossoudji and Australian National University economist Deborah Cobb-Clark estimate that men who gained legal status under IRCA would have been earning between 14 percent and 24 percent higher wages if they’d been “legal” for all of their working lives in the United States.

    • In addition, Kossoudji reports that “using different methodologies, data sets, and national‐origin groups, nearly all researchers agree: once legalized, men’s wages increased simply because they now had the legal right to work.” As a result, “IRCA provided immediate direct benefits by successfully turning formerly clandestine workers into higher‐paid employees.”

    • More broadly, “legalization for otherwise law‐abiding undocumented immigrants is humane for them and their families, develops a better workforce for U.S. companies, and acts as a workforce development program for young people. Legalization would also create a level playing field and fair competition for U.S. workers, improve the earnings of law‐abiding companies, increase the tax revenue of local, state, and federal governments, and free local police to return to crime prevention, crime solving, and building safe communities.”

  • A study by Rob Paral and Associates found that “between 1990 and 2006, the educational attainment of IRCA immigrants increased substantially, their poverty rates fell dramatically, and their home ownership rates improved tremendously. Moreover, their real wages rose, many of them moved into managerial positions, and the vast majority did not depend upon public assistance.”

    • In 1990, 27 percent of IRCA immigrants age 16-24 lived below the federal poverty line. By 2006, the share who lived in poverty had fallen to 15 percent. Similarly, among IRCA immigrants age 25-34 in 1990, the poverty rate declined from 26 percent to 14 percent between 1990 and 2006.

    • Only 26 percent of IRCA immigrants who were 25-34 years old in 1990 owned their own homes. This had risen to 67 percent by 2006. Likewise, among immigrants age 35-44 in 1990, the homeownership rate rose from 34 percent to 68 percent between 1990 and 2006.

In addition to the positive economic outcomes we can predict based on our experience with IRCA, studies specific to the DREAM Act give us reason to believe in its economic potential. For example, a study by the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy estimates that 38% of those eligible for the DREAM Act’s benefits would actually obtain legal permanent resident status. In that scenario, the North American Integration and Development Center (NAIDC) estimates that DREAM Act beneficiaries would earn $1.4 trillion in taxable income over a 40-year period, offering a big boost to the U.S. economy.

The DREAM Act has been on the table for years. It is time to let our Senators and Congressional representatives know that we refuse to wait any longer for DREAM to become a reality. We must stand up for the children who need our help to find their place in this world.

 We need to let our political leaders know that we are voters who care about the DREAMers and the potential they hold to positively impact our economy.

To call, write or email your Senators and Congressmen, please see our article: 4 Ways to Fight for Immigration Reform

If you or someone you know needs the help of an immigration attorney, please call us today to schedule a consultation.  

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