Illegal Aliens:

Estimating Their Impact on the United States

PAD-80-22: Published: Mar 14, 1980. Publicly Released: Mar 14, 1980.

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While the number of persons entering the United States illegally is estimated to have increased rapidly in recent years, there is little data with which to assess their impact on American society and economy. Legislation was introduced in Congress to adjust the status of some of these aliens to permanent and temporary residency, and to provide for legal remedies if employers knowingly hire illegal aliens. However, this legislation has not been enacted. Supporters of the proposed legislation believe that granting amnesty would raise wages and working conditions, benefiting both aliens and U.S. residents, and that the imposition of employer sanctions would deter illegal aliens from entering the country. Opponents argue that amnesty condones past lawbreaking and encourages others to migrate illegally with expectations of being granted permanent or temporary status. They believe deportation of these workers would also free the job market for legal workers, and that employer sanctions could lead to discrimination against foreign-looking persons due to employers' fears of hiring illegal aliens. Using assumptions based on data gathered from Government agencies and academic researchers on various aspects of the issues, GAO developed a mathematical model to estimate the possible impact of the illegal alien population. Estimates of this impact were made with and without the granting of amnesty.

The largest number of illegal aliens is estimated to come from Mexico where the high population growth has created a serious internal employment problem. Enforcement efforts by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) have been restricted by the courts and pressure from interest groups. In States with employer sanctions legislation, enforcement hinges on defining when an employer knowingly employs an illegal alien and then gathering sufficient evidence to prosecute the accused employer. Based on an estimated 6 million illegal alien population in 1976, GAO estimated that Government revenues exceeded expenditures; a substantial amount of U.S. currency may have been exported to foreign countries; and the impact of illegal aliens varied by regions. Projections based on not granting amnesty showed that the total number of illegal aliens may increase significantly by 1991. Taxes received should exceed costs for Government services and the amount of currency exported should be sizable. Assuming that amnesty were granted in 1981 with 765,000 aliens qualifying for permanent resident status and 5 million for temporary resident status, the alien population would double by 1991 because many residents would bring their families into the United States. For deportable aliens, assuming that employer sanctions and law enforcement would be effective, the status quo would not be changed, and amnesty would increase illegal migration. The total population is estimated to be larger than maintaining the status quo and Government expenditures are estimated to exceed generated revenues.

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