For those of us who strongly support immigration reform, the recently announced accord on this issue by leading national business and labor organizations offers new hope that Congress may finally achieve a long-postponed overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.
In a joint statement, Thomas J. Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Richard L. Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, declared that “the United States will always be a nation of immigrants who have contributed greatly to the vitality, diversity and creativity of American life.”
The statement set out three goals: that American workers would have a “first crack” at available jobs; that a new visa program for lower-skilled workers should be adjustable to reflect changing needs of businesses as the economy grows or retreats; that a new system be more transparent and use “real-world” data about labor markets and demographics.
In an important turnaround, the joint statement put the AFL-CIO on record favoring admission of future low-skilled workers. At the same time, the two groups agreed that “our challenge is to create a mechanism that responds to the needs of business in a market-driven way, while also fully protecting the wages and working conditions of U.S. and immigrant workers.”
The last serious immigration reform effort in 2007 failed in part because of the inability of business and labor organizations to overcome their differences on the issue. President Barack Obama has made immigration reform a priority of his second term in office.
We believe that immigration reform should provide the 11.2 million (as of 2010) unauthorized immigrants in this country with a pathway to become U.S. citizens. The Obama administration concurs with our position. This would benefit an estimated 30,000 people currently in Rhode Island, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Immigrant families should be afforded the opportunity to stay together. Many such families are now divided by visa waiting periods and processing delays that can last for decades.
In 2010 Latino purchasing power in Rhode Island totaled $2.4 billion and Asian purchasing power here was $877.8 million, according to a study by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. The state’s 5,765 Latino-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $460.6 million in 2007, the latest year for which data were available. Rhode Island’s 1,999 Asian-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $583.9 million during the same year, according to a Census Bureau survey of business owners.
According to a report by the Perryman Group, if all unauthorized immigrant workers were removed from Rhode Island, the state would lose $698 million in economic activity, $310 million in gross economic output, and about 3,780 jobs, even accounting for “adequate market adjustment time.” Further, unauthorized immigrants in Rhode Island paid $28.2 million in state and local taxes in 2010, according to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy.
Clearly, immigration reform would benefit all of us. •
Carol Holmquist is chief executive of the Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island.