Guest column: Where immigration reform has it wrong, and how to fix it

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By Monika Ludwig

Naples

Immigration attorney

In the wake of the U.S. Senate’s Gang of Eight bill for comprehensive immigration reform introduced in April, several attempts have already been made to derail this bipartisan effort to reform our broken immigration laws by introducing onerous and unrealistic amendments.

Others have tried to stop it dead in its tracks by issuing reports like the one funded and recently released by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. This report warns of dire economic consequences to our country by highlighting a very limited estimate of what immigrants would pay in net taxes over their lifetime, while ignoring the broader, overall economic and fiscal benefits of immigration and legalization in general and the proposed reforms in particular. Interestingly enough, the study’s co-author, Jason Richwine, recently resigned from his post at the Heritage Foundation after it emerged that he was also the author of a study claiming that the IQ of Hispanics was too low for them to broadly assimilate into U.S. culture.

Before voicing loud objections to the bill as just “another amnesty” and limiting immigration policy to mass deportations and zero-immigration only, opponents should pause to examine and reflect on various other studies that show that the overall economic benefits of legalizing current undocumented aliens as well as allowing future immigration through more flexible legal channels would result between $1.5 trillion to $1.8 trillion in additional gross domestic product (GDP) over 10 years. By contrast, these studies also found that a policy limited to mass deportation and zero immigration would decrease GDP by $2.6 trillion over 10 years, while projecting soaring costs for apprehension, incarceration and deportation. Another study, this one by conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, found that the longer -erm impact of legal immigration, using economic-based extrapolations of demographic and technological trend dynamics, would generate net positive economic and fiscal benefits that would amount to a $2.5 trillion reduction in the cumulative deficit over 10 years.

But one need not delve into the complexities of macroeconomics to see that comprehensive immigration reform will not only benefit the country as a whole, but that it will be especially good for our little corner of the world. I am referring to scarcely publicized provisions in the proposed bill that would allow buyers of real estate in the U.S. to reside here for an extended period. For example, Canadian citizens (and their spouses) who are over age 55, who maintain a house in Canada and simultaneously rent or own a house in the U.S., could reside in the U.S. for up to 240 days (eight months) in any given year.

Another provision, would allow foreign investors and their immediate family who buy one or more houses for at least $500,000 in cash to reside more than 180 days in the U.S. in a residence that is valued at $250,000 or more. These investors could not engage in work other than manage their investment properties, must be over 55 years old, and show evidence of health insurance. The visa could be renewed every three years.

Many would-be homebuyers are currently discouraged by the prospect of being limited to three or at best six months during which they can enjoy their often-considerable investment here. Despite these limits on an authorized stay, a large number of Canadian and other foreign buyers have already shown a willingness to purchase real estate in our region. These added incentives could prove to be a boon to our real estate market that is such a vital part of our local economy, not to mention the benefits for other businesses and their employees that would see added revenue generated by these foreign consumers.

I suggest that voters of all political persuasion give this important effort to reform our immigration laws the careful examination and consideration it deserves. Don’t be swayed by the misinformation disseminated by certain groups like the Heritage Foundation who seek to solidify their base with oversimplified and one sided scare tactics.

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