WASHINGTON -- Future illegal immigration to the U.S. could be cut in half by the Senate-approved bill to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, according to a new analysis Wednesday from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
The new estimate reflects changes in the bill made last week, including the $46-billion “border surge” amendment proposed by Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) which won over several Republican senators.
The Senate’s final version of the legislation would cut federal deficits over the next decade by $135 billion as immigrants and their employers pay new fees and taxes, the budget office estimated. The extra spending called for by the border surge plan meant that the bill did not reduce deficits as much as the version of the bill the budget office analyzed last month.
In return for the greater spending, the country would have fewer illegal immigrants, the budget office projected. The original version of the bill was projected to cut illegal immigration by about 25%. Now the budget office estimates the bill would reduce illegal immigration by one-third to one-half. Most of those who would be in the country without authorization would be people who entered legally but overstayed their visas.
“The act would result in fewer unauthorized people in the country than projected,” the report said.
Supporters of the overhaul lauded the budget office projection.
“CBO once again vindicated immigration reform and shows how the amendment process improved the bill,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), a chief architect of the overhaul. “CBO has reaffirmed that immigration reform reduces the debt and grows the economy. It also shows that the Corker-Hoeven amendment further substantially reduces the flow of illegal immigrants.”
The legislation is the most comprehensive overhaul to immigration law in a generation, but faces an uncertain fate in the House, where the Republican majority is largely opposed to its main element: a 13-year route to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the country without legal status.
House Republicans prefer their own tough-on-enforcement proposals, including new provisions to secure the border with Mexico, new guest worker programs to bring in legal immigrants and requirements that employers verify the legal status of all new hires. Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) is expected to convene GOP lawmakers next week to discuss the options.
The budget office noted that its analysis took a middle-road approach to a complex effort to forecast the impact of the bill.
“The projections of the budgetary impact and other effects of immigration legislation are quite uncertain because they depend on a broad array of behavioral and economic factors that are difficult to predict,” the budget office wrote. “The agencies strove to develop estimates of the effects of this legislation that are in the middle of the distribution of possible outcomes. Nevertheless, the actual outcomes would surely differ from these estimates in one direction or another.”
Critics of the overhaul, including the Heritage Foundation, have argued that immigrants would cost the country, and that the future flow of illegal immigration would be higher.
[For the record, 2:10 p.m., July 3: An earlier version of this post listed Sen. John Hoeven as a South Dakota lawmaker. He represents North Dakota.]