Citizenship can make a difference in your paycheck

A new study links citizenship for undocumented workers to better pay and working conditions. But other experts say newly legalized low-wage workers still run the risk of poor treatment on the job.

A new study shows allowing unauthorized immigrants in Arizona to become legal citizens would improve their pay and working conditions.

The Morrison Institute Latino Public Policy Center at Arizona State University released the study Wednesday. It says the state's estimated 190,000 unauthorized workers would see a pay increase of 8 to 11 percent if they were granted citizenship. 

"They do better because they can compete for jobs that are available only to U.S. citizens. But more than that, becoming a citizen shows your commitment to America," says author Mike Slaven. 

Slaven says employers will invest in those committed workers. According to the study, a path to citizenship could mean up to $246 million a year in extra income for Arizona's low-wage immigrant workforce. This trend applies to the whole country, because "every state has people who fall into that category," Slaven says. 

Still, citizenship may not be a magic tonic. The UCLA Labor Center's Victor Narro points to 1986 — when a wave of three-million people were granted amnesty. He says that law had something very important missing from it. It did not guard against wage theft and workplace discrimination.

"We need to make sure that no matter what comes out of Congress, there has to be a commitment of resources to make sure worker protection laws are going to be enforced," Narro says.

Otherwise, he adds wages will stay low.

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