First, a note on the title: The term ‘immigration reform’ seems to me a bit inaccurate. Very little is proposed that would change the number of human beings coming to the United States from abroad. Instead, we need to focus on those who are already immigrants (their numbers, at least from Mexico, are in fact relatively steady) , giving them a path to become citizens. There are any number of humanitarian reasons to do this, but a fair portion of American lawmakers don’t seem capable of perceiving humanity without accompanying documentation, so lets look at why citizenship reform is absolutely essential from the perspective of the United States, socially and economically.
Socially, we are currently locked in a situation where millions of people are legally or illegally part of the labor market but have no say in the governance of the country. The advantage this gives to the ‘one percent’ – a steady supply of non-voting labor, is a huge force for producing inequality between labor and capital. Many claim that giving undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship rewards lawbreaking, and is somehow morally detrimental to society. I would challenge that: imagine instead the effect it has on the rule of law and the perception thereof to have millions of people in the US living and working in violation of the law, and yet hurting no one? How is watching your uncle or next door neighbor get deported for entirely abstract reasons supposed to create a perception that the law and its agents are fair and worthy of respect, especially in the minds of young, legal immigrants living in neighborhoods where this happens? Finally, if crime is a real concern, doesn’t it make sense to give those whose only crime is lacking proper documentation a chance at a legal livelihood, rather than essentially forcing them to work under the table or in actually illegal industries (drugs, trafficking, etc)?
Economically, the long-term cost of restricting immigration in a situation with declining birth-rates is very clear – just look at Japan. it is clear that if the native-born population is experiencing fertility rates below replacement rates, immigration from outside the country is important to keep the overall population from aging more rapidly than it can support its newly geriatric population. The US is fortunate to have a culture that is traditionally open to immigration and millions of people who would like to live here as American citizens. These advantages have saved us much of the demographic shock that has slowed the economies of Japan and (to a lesser extent) Europe. Continuing to demonize undocumented immigrants (and immigrants generally), however, threatens to squander these invaluable resources. And the continuing ease with which the global economy can move jobs across borders and oceans means it is a huge advantage to be able to bring talented workers to the US, not hire them as they continue to live (and pay taxes) overseas. Here the use of non-immigrant visas like the H-1B can be somewhat useful, in moving some of the tax revenues onshore, but they leave the basic problem that the skilled labor you bring here (and give experience to, and train further) is eventually going to go home, to say nothing of the capital-labor distortion of having a whole class of laborers literally inhabiting this country at the whim of their employers.
It is therefore difficult to see how continuing to perpetuate the current immigration/citizenship system can possibly work to the advantage of the US, to say nothing of the undocumented immigrants who directly suffer from it.