Policy change expected to pump billions into the economy

Paola Pardo, 24, was getting married to her best friend. As an undocumented immigrant living in America, she felt this was the only option to pursue her dreams.

When she was seven, Pardo and her mother emigrated to the United States from Colombia. They were denied at their immigration interview, which took place on September 11, 2001. Rather than leave the country, the Pardos stayed in Miami where Paola continued to excel in school. She was aware of their undocumented status, but it didn’t hit her until she graduated high school.

“When I turned 18, it became a personal issue that I had to find an answer to,” said Pardo. “For two years, I thought something was going to happen, some sort of reform. I graduated high school and I didn’t even bother applying to colleges because I knew there was no way.”

This is when Pardo decided to marry her best friend in order to fast track a permanent residency. At a marriage consultation with an immigration attorney, she learned there was another way, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

“After [DACA], I feel safe. I have a license, I have identification and I can go to school,” said Pardo, who is going into her second year at Miami Dade College.

Pardo is one of thousands of young immigrants whose benefits from immigration reform subsequently benefit the economy.

“When these young people are allowed to come out of the shadows and have some sort of status, they have more chances of becoming more fully incorporated into our society and our economy,” said Guillermo Cantor, senior policy analyst at the American Immigration Council (AIC), a D.C. organization that lobbies for better treatment of undocumented immigrants. “In turn, this increase in economic opportunity positively impacts the U.S. economy as a whole.”

This benefits cycle also increases the chances that these undocumented Americans will be able to open businesses and employ more workers. In 2007 alone, immigrant-owned small businesses generated $776 billion in receipts and employed an estimated 4.7 million people in 2007, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Immigrants also pay sales and property taxes, as well as income taxes if they have legal work permits. The 11 million (and counting) undocumented immigrants in the United States contributed $11.2 billion in state and local taxes in 2010, according to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a number that would go up with higher immigrant wages.

Undocumented Americans collectively paid $13 billion in payroll taxes to the Social Security system, according to Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive Washington-based think-tank.

In June 2012, President Obama signed a memorandum creating DACA, which enables undocumented immigrants under the age of 31 to obtain employment authorization and other legal documentation, but is not a pathway to citizenship.

The DREAM Act, now stalled in Congress, would do what DACA does but would enable immigrants like Paola Pardo to eventually become legal citizens.

A 2010 study at the UCLA North American Integration and Development Center found that the total earnings of the DREAM Act beneficiaries during their working lives would be between $1.4 and $3.6 trillion. With an estimated 1.9 million undocumented Americans eligible for legal status under the DREAM Act, these workers would be providing money to the United States economy.

“There is no evidence that shows that legalizing undocumented people would hurt the U.S. economy in the long run – and this also applies to DACA, of course. In fact, studies show that the opposite is true,” Cantor said.

If Congress passed the federal DREAM Act, the U.S. economy would gain $329 billion and Florida would benefit over $21 billion. Implementing the act would create more than 100,000 jobs in Florida and a million across the nation, according to a study by CAP and the Partnership for a New American Economy.

“When I didn’t have DACA, I did have a job but I didn’t get paid that well. I had a car, but I didn’t want to drive without a license,” said Jessenia Fernandez, a 24-year-old administrative assistant who emigrated from Mexico at the age of five.

Thanks to DACA, Fernandez was able to purchase a new car and says she is in the process of saving up to buy a house. DACA has given Fernandez the confidence to pursue her dreams.

“When I first signed up for deferred action I said ‘you know what, this is my time. I have DACA, I could work, I could get those dreams,’” said Fernandez. “No more ‘one day,’ it’s now.”