CBO: 8 million to gain legal status in Senate bill

People shout out Tuesday against the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act in the hall outside the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. The committee in the Republican-led House prepared to cast its first votes on immigration this year.

People shout out Tuesday against the Strengthen and Fortify Enforcement Act in the hall outside the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. The committee in the Republican-led House prepared to cast its first votes on immigration this year. Photo by The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON (AP) — About 8 million immigrants living unlawfully in the United States would gain legal status under sweeping legislation moving toward a vote in the Senate, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday, adding the bill would push federal deficits lower in each of the next two decades.

In an assessment that drew cheers from the White House and other backers of the bill, Congress’ scorekeeping agency said the legislation would boost the overall economy. It put deficit reduction at $197 billion across a decade, and $700 billion in the following 10 years if the bill became law.

The White House quickly issued a statement after the report was released, saying it was “more proof that bipartisan commonsense immigration reform will be good for economic growth and deficit reduction.” Other supporters said the estimate would add to the momentum behind a measure that toughens border security at the same time it holds out the hope of citizenship to millions who came to the United States illegally or overstayed their visas.

The assessment came as the pace of activity increased at both ends of the Capitol on an issue that President Barack Obama has placed at the top of his domestic agenda.

Challenged by protesters chanting “shame, shame,” House Republicans advanced legislation to crack down on immigrants living illegally in the United States, at the same time the Senate lurched ahead on a dramatically different approach offering the hope of citizenship to the same millions.

Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina said the bill moving through the House Judiciary Committee was part of a “step by step, increment by increment” approach to immigration, an issue that can pit Republican against Republican as much if not more than it divides the two political parties.

California Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren predicted there would be “millions of American citizens taking to the street” in protest if Republicans pressed ahead with the bill. The measure permits state and local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws and requires mandatory detention for anyone in the country illegally who is convicted of drunk driving.

Despite the protests, approval by the committee was a foregone conclusion. The panel’s chairman, Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., said future bills would require companies to make sure their employees are living in the United States legally, create a program for foreign farm workers who labor in the United States and enhance the ability of American firms to hire highly skilled workers from overseas.

Those steps and more are already rolled into one sweeping measure in the Senate, a bipartisan bill that Obama supports and that appears on track for a final Senate vote as early as July 4.

The CBO said in its report and accompanying economic analysis that the legislation would raise economic activity in each of the next two decades as millions of workers join the legal workforce paying taxes. Not all the forecast was as favorable, though. CBO said average wages would decline through 2025 as a result of the bill, and that unemployment would go up slightly.

One critic quickly seized on the impact on pay. “It’s going to raise unemployment and push down wages,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said of the bill, a combination he said would hammer American workers.

The report was issued near the end of a day of skirmishing on the Senate bill.

In a series of votes during the day, the Senate rejected a move by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., to require the installation of 350 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border before legalization can begin for anyone currently in the United States illegally.

Similarly, the Senate rejected a proposal by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to prevent legalization until a biometric system is in place to track people entering or leaving the country through air, sea or land points of departure.

Those proposals were overshadowed by a larger debate over the types of border security requirements the legislation should contain. Republicans generally want to toughen the existing measure, particularly since the bill includes a 13-year path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally — a provision that sparks opposition from voters who could be influential in GOP primaries in next year’s mid-term elections.

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