WASHINGTON – Seeking to keep pressure on House Republicans headed into a month-long congressional recess, the White House is releasing state-by-state breakdowns of how immigration reform would boost the economy and benefit programs such as Social Security.
For Maine, creating a “pathway to citizenship” for illegal immigrants and expanding programs for high-skilled or temporary foreign workers would increase Maine’s economic output by $98 million and create 1,486 jobs in 2014, according to a Regional Economic Models Inc. report cited by the White House.
Another study cited by the Obama administration predicted that comprehensive immigration reform would have increased state and local taxes paid by undocumented immigrants in Maine by $832,000 in 2010.
The administration is releasing the state-by-state figures on Thursday – the second such report in a week – as the White House attempts to rally the public behind a bipartisan immigration reform bill that passed the Senate last month.
The House’s Republican leadership has said the chamber will take a piecemeal approach to immigration reform rather than the Senate’s bill, which House Speaker John Boehner has suggested would not receive majority support within his caucus. The controversial centerpiece of the Senate bill – a new, 13-year process whereby illegal immigrants could gain citizenship – faces a much tougher road in the Republican-controlled House.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Obama administration officials were clear about their strategy headed into Congress’ August recess: keep the heat on Republicans by pitching immigration reform as both a moral and an economic issue.
“It is our intent to continue to put pressure on the House of Representatives — and particularly those [Republicans] who are blocking this in the House of Representatives — to get them to act,” said Josh Earnest, principal deputy press secretary to the president.
“It is good for growth, it is good for deficit reduction and for Social Security,” said Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council.
“But it is also good for other things — housing prices, strengthening entrepreneurship, tourism.”
Strong resistance remains among some House Republicans, however, who equate the “pathway to citizenship” to amnesty for law breakers. Critics also question the necessity of expanding the number of visas for temporary foreign workers such as those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
The debate over immigration reform has been less heated in Maine than in southern and western states, especially those along the Mexican border. Both Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King supported the Senate bill, and Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud would be likely to support it if the bill were brought to a vote in the House.
And the White House report released today shows that immigration reform would have a relatively modest — or downright small — impact on Maine when compared to agricultural or border states.
For instance, expanding the temporary worker program would be projected to create just 133 jobs in Maine in agriculture, retail, construction and other fields by 2020. Just 4 percent of farm laborers in Maine were non-citizens between 2007 and 2011, compared to 73 percent in California.
But 33 percent of STEM graduates from Maine’s “research-intensive” universities and 42 percent of those earning doctoral degrees in engineering were foreign-born, temporary students, according to the pro-immigration Partnership for a New American Economy.
Nationwide, the White House cited studies predicting that the Senate bill — or something similar to it — would increase the country’s gross domestic product by 5.4 percent in 2033, equivalent to $1.4 trillion.
The administration said the bill would also reduce the deficit by $850 billion over the next 20 years and add $300 billion to the Social Security Trust Fund over the decade, lengthening the fund’s solvency.
Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at: