National Immigration Forum

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The Business Perspective on Immigration Reform

May 04, 2009 - Posted by Katherine Vargas


Photo by Carlo Nicora

We received the following letter from a businessman in Houston, TX. The letter highlights the common frustration over the inadequacies of our immigration system, experienced by honest employers who want to be on the right side of the law but are squeezed between a failed system that does not provide access to an adequate legal workforce and keeping their business afloat:


“As the great immigration debate rages on, I am reminded that the longer Congress does nothing, the more the ‘other’ side is winning.


Yesterday, our Human Resources person called and asked if I knew of an agency that could help a long-time, 10 year employee.   I inquired as to his problem and she explained that when we renewed our hospitalization, his social security number had been questioned since someone else in their data banks had the same number.  Upon questioning he admitted that it was not his number so we had to terminate him immediately.


In tears, he left the office but returned the next day to ask for help in exploring his options.  He explained that he has been in the country illegally all this time, is now the father of four American born children —all doing very well in school. Unfortunately, his options are few.  I called my contacts at the law firm as well as the legal assistance department at Catholic Charities and the answers were all the same:  There is no way under the existing law that he can gain legal status.


He is resolved that he will find work in the underground economy, probably working for cash without benefits and not being able to pay taxes even though he wants to pay taxes. This is not much of a future.  


These occurrences infuriate me and drive me to work even harder for immigration reform.


As I talked to this man and saw his pain, I thought about his 4 kids and how this will affect them and their attitudes about ‘their’ country and it’s treatment of their parents.  Then multiply that by about 3.5 million children, the number estimated by the Pew Hispanic Center of US born kids with one or more undocumented parents.


At our immigration meeting last Tuesday, I talked with a fellow contractor who had a similar experience.  One of his best drivers, who had worked 15 years with his company, could not renew his driver’s license.  Since this was a requirement for his job, he was terminated. 


So, who is winning this war of attrition?  As the noose tightens with audits, e-verification, social security numbers to renew licenses, more and more of our immigrant community will be driven from jobs that offer benefits and pay taxes, to the underground economy. 


The ‘other side’ says: keep up the heat!  They’ll leave the country!  Well, in my opinion that won’t happen.  They have built their lives and dreams here and they’ll find a way to survive. 


The shame is that we as a country are creating an entire class of ‘sub’ citizens and we will look back some day and be ashamed that it happened.


It’s time now to demand sensible reform.  If not, we’ll just continue to hear these same types of stories.”


Jeff Moseley, President and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, is another businessman echoing this frustration over our immigration system. He testified before Congress last Thursday during the Senate’s Immigration Subcommittee hearing on comprehensive immigration reform,


Our current immigration system clearly does not work; we have to find a better way. And the theory that these [undocumented] workers should somehow take their place at the back of the line and enter this country legally defies logic. Because our current system only allows for 5,000 new unskilled applicants each year, at this rate, it would take 2,400 years just to facilitate the re-entry of the estimated 12 million undocumented residents of this country. 


...The answer is not to send these workers home, but to give them recognized legal status so that their contributions to the economy can be recorded, and they can be taxed for public services like every other member of the community. 

Testimony of Jeff Moseley, April 30, 2009

As seen in these commentaries, the business community knows first-hand the urgency to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Reform is necessary to fit our immigration system to reality, to match our system to the economic needs of this country, and to restore fairness in the labor market.


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