Immigration reform returned to center stage in Washington of late with a proposal from a bipartisan group of senators that was promptly endorsed in principle by President Barack Obama. One of the linchpins of the proposal is providing a “path to citizenship” for those who are currently in the country illegally, a concept that opponents were quick to label amnesty. Obama denies any talk of amnesty, saying instead he wants illegal immigrants to pay penalties, pay taxes, learn English, and then go “to the back of the line.”


But what’s wrong with granting amnesty to hard-working, tax-paying individuals whose only crime is immigration status? Amnesty is not only the best solution to our immigration problem, it is the only solution. Here are five reasons to grant amnesty now.


1. Immigration Is Good for the Economy: For all the rhetoric about immigrants stealing jobs, immigration actually provides a benefit to the national economy because of what economists call the specialization of labor. As Jonathan Hoenig, proprietor of the Capitalist Pig blog, explains: “The fact that foreigners are eager to pick crops, clean houses and bus tables allows more of us to afford cheaper food and better services… it’s not the immigrants, but the taxes, spending and entitlements (most of which immigrants don’t receive) that have drained the economy dry.”


2. Illegal Immigrants Already Pay Taxes: One of Obama’s markers on the path to citizenship is paying taxes, but most illegal immigrants already do. As writer Shikha Dalmia reported, in 2006 an estimated 8 million illegal immigrants paid taxes, including both income taxes and Medicare and Social Security taxes. And of course everyone who buys things in the U.S. pays sales taxes. Undoubtedly, even more illegal immigrants would pay taxes if they didn’t have to worry about deportation as a consequence.


3. Most Illegal Immigrants Are Otherwise Law-Abiding: While illegal immigration is a crime, the act of crossing the border without authorization is a misdemeanor. Immigrants, in fact, may help drive crime down. The vast majority want to stay in the country to work and so steer clear of breaking laws. Yes, 14 percent of federal inmates are illegal immigrants, but they are largely there for immigration violations. Less than 5 percent of state inmates are illegal immigrants. Not exactly the makings of a crime wave.


4. Immigration Is a Natural Right: Judge Andrew Napolitano reasoned that immigration is a natural right, inherent to our humanity. The idea that immigration needs to be “authorized” by the government flies in the face of that freedom. Immigrants who come to America seeking the opportunity to work and pursue happiness, or those brought here at too young an age to have any say in the matter, ought to be able to stay to pursue those opportunities. Conversely, employers ought to be able to enter into contracts with any would-be employees they please. Political borders are just lines on maps. 


5. There Are Too Many Illegal Immigrants To Do Anything Else: According to the latest estimates, there are about 11 million illegal immigrants in America. That’s a lot of people. It would be difficult to deport them all – if not totally impossible. Indeed, even attempting it would require a massive expansion of bureaucracy, particularly new government workers to round up illegal immigrants and deport them. The inhumanity of this approach goes without saying: Individuals would be ripped away from their families. And there would also be dire consequences from removing millions of workers from the labor pool.


It’s time to face the facts: The millions of illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States are overwhelmingly law-abiding, tax-paying, and hard-working. Grant them amnesty and let them continue to make America a better place. 


ED KRAYEWSKI is an associate editor at 24/7 news for Reason.com

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