By Quinn Gillies ‘25
More than 10 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States. Most cross the border to pursue a better life but face significant challenges on arrival. How can they integrate into a society that does not allow them to legally? Current policy directs authorities to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants who are trying to find opportunity in the U.S. Why not instead provide a realistic and timely path for them to work and live legally in America?
Providing amnesty for undocumented immigrants who are already here would allow this vulnerable population to apply for citizenship without legal repercussion. Amnesty is not unheard of; under the Reagan administration, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 was passed, granting amnesty to nearly three million undocumented immigrants. The Obama administration created Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which granted amnesty and provided a path to citizenship for undocumented people brought into the country as children.
Arguments about immigration focus on the border crisis but should consider the impact on economic growth and public safety. Let’s start with the economy. Allowing undocumented immigrants to become legal members of society would increase the availability of skilled and unskilled labor. When immigrants join the labor market, productivity and innovation increase. Having more low-skill workers enables higher productivity, as they fill jobs that native-born Americans don’t want. High-skilled immigrants with advanced degrees allow for minimal brain drain and drive innovation.
Amnesty ensures that undocumented workers work legally at minimum wage, with little negative impact on native-born American citizens without a high school diploma. While competition for jobs among undocumented workers and their native-born counterparts may initially result in lower wages, the loss is minimal compared to the overall economic gain from having a larger workforce. Amnesty would result in American GDP growth by approximately $1.7 trillion over 10 years. Wages would increase for both migrants and native-born Americans by $14,000 and $700 respectively over 10 years. Amnesty allows for this potential economic boom to be felt with full force. Every American worker would gain.
Further, providing amnesty and creating paths to citizenship would improve public safety. Today, harmful stereotypes about immigrants lead to fear and distrust. A Pew Research study shows that 27% of people in the U.S. believe that immigrants are more likely to commit serious crimes, and a poll by NPR shows that 53% of Americans believe that there is an “invasion” at the southern border. This fear-based correlation is not backed up by evidence. In fact, undocumented immigrants commit 1.1% less crime than their native counterparts on average with legal immigrants committing 2.1% less crime. Granting amnesty through the IRCA dropped the overall crime rate by 3 to 5%. A federal study found that in Texas, undocumented immigrants had significantly lower crime rates than both legal immigrants and native-born citizens. People born in the U.S. were twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes and drug crimes, and arrested four times more often for crimes against property.
Fear is a powerful emotion that cannot drive our immigration policy. By putting fear aside and looking at the empirical benefits, amnesty becomes the clear choice.
By alleviating constant fear of deportation, undocumented immigrants are more likely to report crime. Only 17% of crimes against undocumented immigrants are reported due to fear of deportation and a general distrust in law enforcement. After granting amnesty, reporting of crime by this same group climbed by about 20%. Amnesty enables those who were previously victimized to stand up and make their communities and this country stronger and safer. A safer America is something we can all support.
Critics of amnesty argue that it would encourage illegal immigration. After the passing of the Reagan-era IRCA in 1986, the number undocumented immigrants caught crossing the southern border dropped, before returning to levels seen before the implementation of the law. Overall, previous policy granting amnesty did not have long-term effects on patterns of illegal immigration from Mexico.
Granting amnesty for the undocumented will create a safer and more prosperous America. With amnesty the specter of deportation is excised and the weight of fear is lifted. It offers a brighter future for both native citizens and immigrants.