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costs to U.S. residents? Even if the benefits outweigh the costs, does immigration potentially lower the employment and wages of some native-born workers? For example, the decline in real wage rates over the past 25 years for men with less than a college education has drawn special attention to the status of this group since they are the most likely to compete directly with immigrant labor. Although always part of the debate on immigration, these fears have been heightened in recent decades by sluggish economic growth. The recession in the early 1990s deepened this concern.
Second, how are the immigrants themselves doing? Have their educational attainments and occupational skills declined over time? Are they able to assimilate during their lifetimes into the mainstream of American economic life? However well the immigrants themselves do, what are the prospects for their children and grandchildren? On the answer to these questions turn policies for admitting immigrants—in terms of both numbers and characteristics.
Third, how can federal policies ease the mounting tensions between the federal government and states and localities over immigration issues? Poor economic conditions and budget pressure in areas of high immigration have spurred demands that the federal government curb both legal and illegal immigration and reimburse states for the costs of immigration.
Finally, what will the population of the United States look like in 50 years? If the "new" immigrants from Asia and Latin America continue to account for the larger share of immigration, will the size, ethnicity, and racial composition of our society be much different by the middle of the next century?
What Did the Panel Do?
In the light of the intensity of the recent debate, Congress gave the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform a mandate to review and evaluate the implementation and impact of U.S. immigration policy, and to report to Congress its findings and recommendations. To address some of the questions in the ongoing debate, in 1995 the commission requested the National Academy of Sciences to convene a panel of experts to explore the demographic, economic, and fiscal consequences of immigration. Through its Committee on Population and its Committee on National Statistics, the National Research Council convened a panel of 12 experts in economics, demography, and sociology to address three key questions in the debate:
What is the effect of immigration on the future size and composition of the resident U.S. population?
What is the influence of immigration on the overall economy, especially on national and regional labor markets?
What is the overall fiscal impact of immigration on federal, state, and local governments?