OP/ED: Why citizenship is important
Originally published in The Hill, Sept. 18, 2013
Why citizenship is important
It is not hard to see that citizenship is the cornerstone of the American dream. We are a nation of immigrants and immigration remains one of the great strengths of this country. To recognize the importance of citizenship to who we are as a people, September 17th marked Citizenship Day. As Congress continues discussing comprehensive immigration reform, we are again reminded that the inclusion of a pathway to citizenship is essential to ensuring that all immigrants are able to fully contribute to our economy, workforce and communities.
What happens when immigrants are able to become citizens rather than just seeing their immigration status legalized?
The answer is simple: We will have a stronger and more integrated America.
Allowing immigrants a path toward becoming citizens and fully integrating into everyday life in the United States will create a sense of belonging and attachment to our nation, just as it did for Irish, Italians and countless others who all had the chance to be full-fledged Americans. We cannot allow those who have immigrated to our nation to believe they are just a permanent subclass of worker, without an opportunity to work toward their American Dream. That idea of an underclass, a group that can reside in the U.S. legally but can never vote or become full equal members, runs completely contrary to the ideals upon which our nation was founded.
Creating the opportunity to earn citizenship is not simply the best thing to do for the identity of our nation. Creating that opportunity also has economic benefits that are unreachable by legalization-only immigration reform. Citizenship opportunities would mean higher wages for naturalized immigrants immediately and over the long term. Higher wages create more consumer spending. That increased consumer spending would allow the U.S. economy to strengthen and grow. When our economy is strong, businesses benefit with increased revenue and they grow, expand and hire more American workers.
On the other hand, research shows significant economic costs, in terms of lost growth, earnings, tax revenues and jobs, associated with the failure to provide a path to earned citizenship for immigrant families. Compared to the benefits of citizenship, providing legal status alone to currently undocumented workers would, over the next decade, result in $568 billion less national productivity, and $321 billion less total income. 820,000 fewer total jobs would be created, and federal and state governments would lose out on $75 billion in additional tax revenue according to outside estimates.
Citizenship also creates certainty in the lives of hard-working immigrants, their families and employers. Employers will not have to worry about having to retrain an employee, sometimes at high costs, as occurs when employees lose their work visas. Along with the stability created for employees through citizenship comes stability needed for employers to invest in more education and job training. A better educated and more experienced American workforce is key to a successful future for our nation.
It is our duty as elected officials to prepare America to be as competitive as possible in the global economy. We must encourage our society to flourish as our people share a set of common goals. We must strengthen our nation by increasing the diversity of its population and workforce.
America was founded on the idea that we are a great nation that welcomes immigrants to our shores. We must reflect those foundations by continuing to move forward toward greater equality and opportunity for those living in the cities and towns that lie from sea to shining sea. Citizenship is the most precious gift we can give to those hardworking immigrants who contribute to our great nation. So, on Citizenship Day, let’s remember the priceless contributions immigrants have made to our country and continue the fight for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship.
Cardenas is a freshman lawmaker representing Califronia's 29th Congressional District. He sits on the Budget; the Natural Resources; and the Oversight and Government Reform committees. Cartwright is a freshman lawmaker representing Pennsylvania's 17th Congressional District. He serves on the Natural Resources and the Oversight and Government Reform committees.