“Legalization greatly increases the in-
centives for formerly unauthorized
workers to invest in themselves and
their communities—to the beneﬁt of
the U.S. economy as a whole.”
Illegal Immigrants Should Be
Granted Legal Status
Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda is founding director of the North American
Integration and Development Center at the University of Cali-
fornia, Los Angeles. In the following viewpoint, Hinojosa-Ojeda
praises the 1987 Immigration Reform and Control Act for grant-
ing legalized status to many undocumented Hispanic immigrants
who had resided continuously in the United States since 1982.
According to the author, these immigrants—freed from the need
to hide from authorities—could vie for better-paying jobs, build
businesses, and contribute to their communities. In Hinojosa-
Ojeda’s view, this beneﬁted these workers, raised the wage ﬂoor
of all workers, and added wealth to the overall economy. How-
ever, Hinojosa-Ojeda notes that the reform measure did not set
ﬂexible quotas to deal with the increasing number of immigrants
Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda, Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Beneﬁts of
Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Washington, DC: Center for American Progress,
January 2010. Reprinted by permission.
Should US Immigration Policy Be Reformed?
wanting to work in the United States, so within a few years, the
pool of illegal immigrants grew again, sinking wages for many
legalized immigrants and exacerbating discrimination against
As you read, consider the following questions:
1. According to the Westat ﬁndings cited by the author, by
what percentage did wages for immigrants legalized un-
der the IRCA grow between 1987/1988 and 1992?
2. Besides increased wages, Hinojosa-Ojeda claims that the
IRCA gave legalized immigrants powerful incentives to
do what two other things?
3. What employer sanctions did the IRCA create to curb
the hiring of illegal immigrants who were not given am-
nesty under the law, according to the author?
T he recent history of U.S. immigration policy offers impor-
tant insights into the economic beneﬁts of providing un-
authorized immigrants with legal status and the drawbacks of
immigration reform efforts that are not sufﬁciently compre-
hensive in scope.
The 1986 IRCA [Immigration Reform and Control Act]
granted legal status to 1.7 million unauthorized immigrants
through its “general” legalization program, plus another 1.3
million through a “Special Agricultural Workers” program.
Even though IRCA was implemented during an economic re-
cession characterized by high unemployment, studies of im-
migrants who beneﬁted from the general legalization program
indicate that they soon earned higher wages and moved on to
better jobs—and invested more in their own education so that
they could earn even higher wages and get even better jobs.
Higher wages translate into more tax revenue and in-
creased consumer purchasing power, which beneﬁts the public
treasury and the U.S. economy as a whole. IRCA failed, how-