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Experts say executive order on immigration good for Michigan

Migrant Legal Action Program

President Barack Obama's recent executive order on immigration could be a boost for Michigan's economy, according to a panel of experts convened by Michigan United, a coalition of faith, labor, business, social service, and civil rights members.

The order allows undocumented parents of children legally in the U.S. to apply for a temporary work permit, as long as they have resided in the U.S. for five years or more, undergo a criminal background check, and pay taxes.

"It serves as a form of economic stimulus," says Thomas Weiskopff, a University of Michigan economist, "increasing productivity, output, consumer buying power, tax revenues and jobs."

Between 100,000 and 150,000 undocumented workers are in Michigan, many of them migrant farm workers, which means, says Weiskopff, they rarely compete with native residents for jobs.

Patrick Oakford, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, says Michigan stands to collect an additional $49.3 million in taxes over the next five years as a result of the changes. He says workers will be able to protect themselves from wage exploitation, and more freely move across the economy.

Michigan fruit and vegetable producers especially stand to gain, says Ruben Martinez, director of the Julian Samara Research Institute at Michigan State University.

He says migrant farm workers often move back and forth between Florida and Michigan, but in recent years, they have sometimes feared to come to the state because of the threat of being deported. He says about half of Michigan's migrant farm workers are undocumented.

"Now, they will be able to move back and forth more easily, and address that problem of labor force shortages that the producers have been experiencing," says Martinez.

Martinez says the change will also remove a great deal of stress in families with members who are undocumented workers. 

"The family has been living in the shadows," says Martinez, "always stressed out, particularly the kids, over whether or not the parents will be deported. It impacts the family dynamics, the performance of kids in school."

Nationally, around five million undocumented workers could gain the right to remain in the U.S. using a temporary work permit.

Oakford says it's estimated that could increase federal payroll tax revenues by $22.6 billion over five years.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.