WASHINGTON — Landmark immigration legislation passed by the Senate would remake America's workforce from the highest rungs to the lowest and bring many more immigrants into the economy, from elite technology companies to restaurant kitchens and rural fields.
In place of the unauthorized workers now commonly found laboring in lower-skilled jobs in the agriculture or service industries, many of these workers would be legal, some of them permanent-resident green card holders or even citizens.
Illegal immigration across the border with Mexico would slow, but legal immigration would increase markedly.
That's the portrait that emerges from recent analyses of the far-reaching immigration bill passed last month by the Senate with the backing of the White House. Although the bill aims to secure the borders, track people overstaying their visas and deny employers the ability to hire workers here illegally, it by no means seeks to choke off immigration. Indeed, it would increase the U.S. population over the next two decades by 15 million people above current law, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Even after decades of growth in the U.S. foreign-born population, the added increase could be felt in ways large and small around the country, from big cities that would absorb even more diversity to small towns that may still be adjusting to current immigrant arrivals.
"That is baked into the basic premise of the bill," said Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, "which is that you need to provide legal avenues for people to come to the country both in longer-term temporary and in permanent visa categories in order to meet the needs of the future and avert the incentives for illegal immigration."
The level of immigration under the legislation has been a political issue in the debate and will probably continue to be disputed in the weeks ahead as the House's GOP majority wrestles with how to respond to the Senate bill. It's a complex question because the Senate version expands various temporary and permanent visa categories, shuts down others and creates new ones. Some visa programs are capped and some aren't, and some would expand or contract in response to demand.