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September 16, 2014

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White House continues to press for immigration reform, re-emphasizes economic benefits

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Charles Dharapak / AP

President Barack Obama speaks about immigration reform, Tuesday, June 11, 2013, in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

The Obama administration continues pounding for immigration reform this week, with White House officials releasing two separate reports on the economic benefits of overhaul legislation.

Congress is set to go on recess in August, and White House officials, in a conference call with reporters Wednesday, vowed to keep the pressure on the House of Representatives to advance legislation.

“(The administration) will use all of the tools in the toolbox we have to make the case to the public that (immigration reform) is right for the country. We anticipate making the case through August and every month moving forward,” said Josh Earnest, White House principal deputy press secretary.

This morning, the White House released a state-by-state economic analysis of the benefits of a reform package similar to what the Senate overwhelmingly passed at the end of June.

Congress faces a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to fix an immigration system that the majority of people agree is broken, Earnest said, arguing the Senate bill could pass the House if called for a vote but “a relatively small number of Republicans are blocking” the legislation.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, has publicly vowed to only allow a vote on a bill that would garner support from a majority of GOP legislators.

Gene Sperling, National Economic Council director, argued Wednesday that immigration reform would bolster federal and state revenues, housing prices, job growth and other areas of the economy.

“There is such a strong economic logic for moving forward that the cost of inaction is very high economically, and I think the cost of inaction will be seen as very high politically as well,” he said.

Nevada would have received $6 million in additional tax revenue in 2010 if immigration reform such as in the Senate bill is enacted, according to the White House report. The report further estimates reform would boost Nevada’s economic output by $325 million and create roughly 3,830 new jobs in 2014 in the state. By 2045, Nevada would see a $3.4 billion increase in economic production, in 2012 dollars.

The White House report relies heavily on two recent studies, one from Regional Economic Models Inc., and one from the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy. (The Sun took a closer look at both of those reports last week.)

The White House also uses data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s June analysis of the Senate’s bill potential effects.

On Monday, the White House released a report focused on the benefits to agriculture and rural communities if immigration reform were to pass.

Nevada has fewer farms than all but three other states and does not stand to gain as much as large agricultural producers, such as California. Yet, the proposed legislation’s changes would have an impact on the Silver State, according to the report.

More than a quarter of all farm workers in the state are noncitizens, and the state would lose between $6 million and $11 million in agricultural production in the short term if immigrant labor were eliminated.

The White House report highlights two sectors of the economy that are more pertinent to Nevadans: real estate and tourism.

Between 2000 and 2010, immigrants who moved into Clark County and pushed up housing demand, helped bring about an increase of $19,718 in the median home price, according to the report.

“Tourism is a critical part of the economy in places like Nevada and Florida,” Sperling said. “Provisions in the legislation would increase tourism to the United States. Nevada saw 2.8 million foreign visitors in 2011 who spent, on average, $4,000 during their stay. (Immigration reform) would be a boon for tourism that would help their economy.”

Groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which is opposed to the Senate legislation and supports more restrictive policies, argue that an influx of low-wage workers in particular will depress wages and lead to greater income inequality.

The two sides also dispute the upward mobility of immigrants in the country illegally once they receive legal status. Critics argue the new legal residents would be a drain on public services while proponents say immigrants who were previously underpaid and exploited would see an increase in wages and the boost in economic output would offset any increased costs in public services.

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