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WASHINGTON -- A new study by the University of California at Los Angeles has found that comprehensive immigration reform would boost the economy by $1.5 trillion over 10 years but that a continued enforcement- only/deportation approach would cost $2.5 trillion over the same period.

The Jan. 7 study, "Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform," found that immigration reform would improve the economy and raise wages for current U.S. workers. It's a "strong wake-up call" for lawmakers and shows immigration reform cannot be opposed on the basis of the economic argument, the study's author and economist Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda said at a Jan. 7 press conference.

The 28-page report relied on a computer model to estimate the costs of three scenarios: comprehensive reform that creates a pathway to legal status; a temporary worker program that does not offer permanent status; and mass deportation to expel unauthorized workers.

The study found that comprehensive reform would generate an increase of $1.5 trillion in gross domestic product over 10 years and boost wages for U.S. workers. The temporary worker program would increase GDP by $792 billion over 10 years, but wages would decline for both native-born and newly legalized immigrant workers.

But if the government backs mass deportation, the economy would falter by $2.5 trillion over 10 years, an economically devastating figure that does not factor in the actual cost of deportation, according to the study. Wages would rise for less-skilled native-born workers but would diminish for higher skilled natives and would lead to widespread job loss, the report warned.

AgJOBs is an example of comprehensive reform for the agriculture sector that would combine a structured legalization system for current farmworkers who stay in agricultural work with a more flexible and workable future program, according to Craig Regelbrugge, co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform and a vice president for the American Nursery & Landscape Association. Mr. Regelbrugge briefed Senate and House staff on the report's findings earlier this month.

"The urgency for reform grows daily; we are hearing about more and more agricultural operations that are being hit with immigration I-9 audits, and we expect a very employer-hostile H-2A final rule out of the Labor Department in February," he told The Produce News.

Just earlier this month, Gebbers Farms, a Brewster, WA-based tree fruit business, reportedly had to fire workers after a federal audit found some of its employees were not authorized to work in the United States.

The Obama administration has pledged to begin the immigration reform debate later this year after health care reform is wrapped up.