Interview With Odia Bintou Cissé

By Ashlynn Profit, Staff Writer, Brief Policy Perspectives

Odia Bintou Cissé graduated from the Trachtenberg School with a Masters in Public Administration in 2015.  She conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the Registered Provisional Investment Program (part of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act) to find out what the real costs and benefits to society as a whole are over ten years, from 2015 to 2025.  She sat down with Brief Policy Perspectives to discuss her work.

How Much is a Pathway to Citizenship? A Discussion with Policy Perspectives Author, Odia Bintou Cissé

“Immigration reform” is likely to be an issue the next president will address, whether it’s through building a wall or ending the deportation of children. On June 27, 2013, the Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, or S.744, but it died in the House.

One aspect of the bill was a new 13-year pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) program. The RPI program grants eligible undocumented immigrants legal status for six years and is renewable. After ten years, RPIs can apply for Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status, and after three years of LPR status, they can apply for US citizenship.

Opponents of the program may view the RPI program as an expensive investment. Trachtenberg School 2015 graduate, Odia Cisse, conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the program to find out what the real costs and benefits to society as a whole are over ten years, from 2015 to 2025, and sat down with Brief Policy Perspectives to discuss her work.

“In the United States, back in 2011, the estimated number of undocumented immigrants was about 11.3 million…a portion of those 11.3 million will be able to apply and be granted RPI status. The goal of my paper is to estimate the costs and benefits to the United States economy of moving forward with this program. To do that, I looked at different costs and different benefits for each category, and those categories include: the undocumented immigrants themselves, the USCIS [United States Citizenship and Immigration Services], the US taxpayers, and employers.”

The benefits ranged from higher wages for undocumented immigrants to an increase of $6.9 billion in federal payroll and income taxes for US taxpayers. The costs included employers of undocumented immigrants having to pay higher wages and USCIS workforce expansion.

Surprisingly, US taxpayers benefit the most from the program, and undocumented immigrants bear most of the costs. However, one key benefit was not quantifiable in the analysis.

“I believe the biggest benefit would be the peace of mind. The peace of mind of granting this status to the undocumented immigrants, and not having the fear of being deported. And also, being able to go back home and go visit their families they have left behind. This is much more important than the other quantifiable costs and benefits.”

Odia analyzed the costs and benefits of the RPI program under three different scenarios.

“Even under the worse-case scenario, there will still be significant benefits to the US economy should we move forward with this proposal. My recommendation was to give this program a second chance…I’m not advocating for the entire bill, but just for the [RPI] program itself.”

Odia hopes that readers will take away that programs like this actually have benefits. “With this type of program, we talk about the costs and don’t talk about the benefits most of the time. When you have over 11 million people who are going to be directly impacted by such a proposal, it’s important to realize that it’s not just costs – [undocumented immigrants] also bring a lot of benefits to the economy.”

Odia also emphasized the nature of cost-benefit analyses, which relies on estimates and assumptions. “It’s not hard science, but I really hope it helps with this conversation. Although I’m not directly impacted, so many people’s lives depend on such a bill, and I think people should give this program a second chance.”

Odia decided to take on this topic after walking past the White House, and seeing a protest about immigration. As an international student, she felt that she was drawn to the topic naturally. 
To find out more about RPI, Odia suggests checking out work from the Immigration Policy Center and the Congressional Budget Office.

You can read Odia’s article, “Evaluating the Impact of the Registered Provisional Immigrant Program: A Cost-Benefit Analysis” in Volume 23 of Policy Perspectives.  The article appears online here.

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