The Senate immigration bill would put about 8 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship, boost the economy and stop about 2 million would-be illegal immigrants — about half of the expected total over the next decade — from entering the U.S., according to the first government evaluation of the proposal released Wednesday.
Stephen C. Goss, Social Security's independent chief actuary, said the bill would help Social Security's bottom line by adding workers to the economy. That finding that offers a more optimistic scenario than a report issued earlier this week by the Heritage Foundation and could give the legislation a push as it goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee for the first votes Thursday.
"Overall, we anticipate that the net effect of this bill on the long-range OASDI actuarial balance will be positive," he said, using the acronym for the Old Age, Survivor and Disability Insurance program.
The analysis is the first by a federal agency, and it was released at a time when all sides are trying to figure out the total impact of the nearly 900-page bill.
The crux, worked out by four Democrats and four Republicans, would grant quick legal status to illegal immigrants, but would withhold a full path to citizenship until the Homeland Security Department took more steps on immigration enforcement. The bill also rewrites the legal immigration system.
Senators on the Judiciary Committee have filed more than 300 amendments, including provisions on gay marriage and immigrants' gun rights.
Democrats' amendments chiefly focus on broadening the bill's reach to legalize more people or make it easier to reach the security triggers for a full path to citizenship. Some of the Republicans' amendments address worker visas and propose gutting the bill and replacing it with security-only measures.
Immigrant rights groups said they fear the Republican amendments are designed to poison the debate and kill the bill.
"They want to slow-walk the bill in hopes of derailing it and to inject poison-pill provisions to destroy the delicate balance the Senate 'Gang of Eight' achieved," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice.
Republicans counter that without adding security measures, the bill has no chance of passing the more conservative House.
"There's no border fence. There is no practical back-taxes requirement. And illegal aliens will become eligible for every federal benefit, costing taxpayer trillions," said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican. "It undermines enforcement and weakens our lawful immigration system."
Democrats' amendments granting gay couples the same immigration rights as other married couples also could prove a major hurdle. Many Democrats would like to vote for it, but Republicans warn that could scuttle the carefully balanced compromise that the eight senators struck.
Among the biggest questions surrounding the bill are those concerning basic numbers. The estimate by Mr. Goss provides some answers.
Overall, he said, he expects about 8 million out of the more than 11 million illegal immigrants now in the country to come forward and register for legalization, though he expects about 40,000 of them will violate the terms and fail to be renewed later in the process.
In 2024, he said, about 7.55 million people will be in the program.
Mr. Goss also predicted that about 3.5 million more workers will be granted visas over the next decade and an additional 625,000 family members will get visas. Those numbers are substantially lower than opponents have predicted.
Mr. Goss said newly legalized immigrants and future workers will benefit Social Security — at least during the first 10 years — paying more in payroll taxes than they claim in benefits.
But a Heritage Foundation study this week said the bill becomes a bad deal for taxpayers in later decades. Over 50 years, newly legalized immigrants and future workers will pay $3.1 trillion more in taxes, but will take $9.4 trillion in all benefits, including Social Security, Medicare and welfare.
One key estimate in Mr. Goss' analysis was over the effects of stricter enforcement in the bill.
The actuary said stiffer border security and interior enforcement would cut illegal immigration by about 100,000 people in 2015 and by a cumulative total of 2.09 million over a full decade. But illegal immigration will add 2.103 million to the population over that time, he estimates.
The actuary didn't return a message late Wednesday seeking details on how those calculations were reached.
Mr. Goss provided his estimate in response to a request from Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who was one of eight negotiators who wrote the bill. Mr. Goss said he reviewed the legislation and spoke with Mr. Rubio's staffers, who told him what they intended to do with the bill, and he built his "preliminary" estimate from that.
"Immigration has always been a net benefit for America, and the actuary's assessment of the immigration reform legislation is further validation of this," Mr. Rubio said.
Mr. Sessions, though, questioned the basis of the analysis. He sent a letter this week asking Mr. Goss to take account of the lower education levels of workers who are likely to be legalized under the Senate bill.
"Logic suggests that these workers would earn a lower wage than their 'documented' cohorts," he said.
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