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The Immigration Consensus

Article by Matthew Denhart January 29, 2014 //   4 minute read

A consensus is building that immigration reform is an economic imperative.  

This week’s State of the Union address framed the case for action on immigration in economic terms, with the President saying:

Finally, if we're serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement — and fix our broken immigration system. […] Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams — to study, invent, contribute to our culture — they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. 

It is encouraging to hear the immigration discussion focusing on the contributions that immigrants make to the country’s economy. After all, at the Bush Institute’s 4% Growth Project, we have been highlighting this connection for some time now.

In December 2012, the Bush Institute partnered with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas to hold a conference where economists and business leaders explained specifically how immigrants help propel the country’s economy forward. One of the notable speakers that day was the economist Jennifer Hunt whose research on patent data quantifies one way immigrants spur innovation. Hunt has found patents to be a good measure of innovation since being granted a patent certifies that one’s idea is indeed novel and unique. As the chart below indicates, Hunt’s data show that immigrants are more likely than native-born Americans to be granted a patent. Immigrants are also more likely to commercialize their patents and publish scholarly articles. Immigrants, of course, contribute to economic growth in other ways too — many of which are chronicled in the Institute’s handbook “Growth and Immigration” — but innovation is especially key.

The Institute further articulated the importance of immigrants to the economy in July 2013, when it partnered with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to host the special event, “What Immigrants Contribute.” The event included a naturalization ceremony in Freedom Hall where twenty immigrants were welcomed as new U.S. citizens by President George W. Bush.

Following the ceremony was a major immigration policy conference with three panels of experts. The first panel cited evidence from the experience of Texas that suggests that strong economic growth and a large immigrant population go hand-in-hand. The second panel explained that becoming a naturalized citizen carries substantial economic benefits for those immigrants who actually complete the naturalization process. Even better, the data show that the benefits of naturalization also accrue to the wider U.S. economy, benefitting all who live and work in America. Finally, the third panel highlighted the many ways that immigrants give back to America, with a special focus on immigrants’ service in the U.S. military. A highlight video, provided below, captures the main themes of the day.


In June 2013, the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration-reform bill that many believed would ultimately result in a new immigration law by the end of that year. Unfortunately that proved not to be the case. However, with a growing consensus that immigrants are a solution for faster economic growth, there is much hope that 2014 will be the year that America finally fixes its broken immigration system. Doing so would give a much-needed boost to the country’s economy and help America on its path to 4% growth.