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How do immigrants affect the country's bottom line?

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Field worker
In this Dec. 10, 2010 file photo, a worker tears off the leaves of a Vidalia onion plant before planting its roots into the soil on an onion farm in Lyons, Ga. Sweeping immigration legislation taking shape in the Senate will aim to dramatically overhaul the nation's agriculture worker program to create a steady supply of labor for the nation's farmers and growers, who rely more on illegal workers than any other industry.
AP Photo/David Goldman, File

Changes to the country's immigration policy are in the works. The Senate may soon pass its immigration overhaul, which could increase pressure on the House to take action of its own. Opinions remain sharply divided over the best course for immigration reform, and debate seems likely to heat up in coming weeks.

One new factor informing that debate will be a study, recently conducted by Harvard Medical School researchers, showing that immigrants have a positive effect on federal health spending. The study found that immigrants contribute more funds to Medicare than they take out. 

According to a New York Times article:

The study, led by researchers at Harvard Medical School, measured immigrants' contributions to the part of Medicare that pays for hospital care, a trust fund that accounts for nearly half of the federal program's revenue. It found that immigrants generated surpluses totaling $115 billion from 2002 to 2009. In comparison, the American-born population incurred a deficit of $28 billion over the same period. 

The findings shed light on what demographers have long known: Immigrants are crucial in balancing the age structure of American society, providing an infusion of young, working-age adults who support the country's aging population and help cover the costs of Medicare and Social Security. And with the largest generation in the United States, the baby boomers, now starting to retire, the financial help from immigrants has never been more needed, experts said. 

The Daily Circuit will examine the immigration debate, with special attention to the economic effects of immigration.

LEARN MORE ABOUT IMMIGRATION:

• Despite Early Success, Immigration Bill Faces Uncertain Path Forward
"If immigration reform's prospects are bright in the Senate, they remain murky overall. The easiest way for the bill to pass would be for the House to take up the Senate bill, which could sneak through with the support of a majority of Democrats and a rump faction of Republicans. In recent months, that's been the model for passing big-ticket legislation, such as the New Year's Day tax compromise to avert the fiscal cliff. Members of the Senate's Gang of Eight are hoping that generating some 70 votes in the upper chamber will apply enough pressure that House Republicans will be forced to go along — or face a backlash at the ballot box." (Swampland, Time)

• Here's the economic advice Congress is getting on immigration
"We've written a fair bit about the economic aspects of immigration over the past few months. But what do members of Congress think about the subject? And what sorts of experts are they listening to? Here's some insight: On Wednesday and Thursday this week, the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee held a two-day hearing on the economics of immigration — and on the potential impact of the Senate immigration bill now on the table. The hearing was well attended and co-chaired by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.)" (Wonkblog, Washington Post)