What Are the Consequences of an Amnesty for Undocumented Immigrants?

Pia M. Orrenius and Madeline Zavodny
Working Paper 2004-10
May 2004

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The United States has not created a major amnesty program that would allow undocumented immigrants to legalize their status since 1986. As the number of undocumented immigrants has surged in recent decades, momentum for a new amnesty program has gained ground. This paper discusses the current position of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. economy and the likely economic consequences of an amnesty program. The results of the 1986 amnesty indicate several lessons for designing an amnesty plan that would improve the lives of the currently undocumented, minimize adverse effects on other groups, and stem the continuing tide of undocumented immigrants.

JEL classification: J61, F22

Key words: illegal immigration, undocumented immigrants, amnesty

The authors thank Daniel Allott for helpful comments. The views expressed here are the authors’ and not necessarily those of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, or the Federal Reserve System. Any remaining errors are the authors’ responsibility. This paper is forthcoming in the Spring 2004 issue of Georgetown Public Policy Review.

Please address questions regarding content to Pia M. Orrenius, Research Department, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, 2200 N. Pearl Street, Dallas, Texas 75201, pia.orrenius@dal.frb.org, or Madeline Zavodny, Research Department, Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 1000 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta, Georgia 30309, madeline.zavodny@atl.frb.org.