As a businessperson vitally concerned about jobs and the economy, I continue to be surprised by the lack of urgency in the U.S. House of Representatives to deal with a crucial economic issue — immigration reform. I hope the recent primary election defeat of House majority leader Eric Cantor will not further discourage the House from taking action on this important matter. One congressional district in 435 does not a trend make, and many candidates supporting reasonable reform have been successful this election season.
I have recently interacted with enough Utah employers in a variety of industries to know that they are truly being hurt by a lack of workers. Especially impacted are high-tech, hospitality and agricultural businesses. I agree with national studies showing that congressional action creating an excellent immigration system will provide a burst of economic energy, resulting in more business creation and more jobs for everyone. It is also important to get this done for humanitarian and national security reasons.
Citizens and policymakers on all sides of this issue agree that the current immigration system is badly broken and must be improved. Utahns and citizens across the nation want comprehensive reform. With that strong mandate for action, it makes sense for the House to follow the lead of the U.S. Senate and address this long-festering problem.
One year ago, the Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, or S.744, on a bipartisan 68-32 vote. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch voted for it. While S.744 is by no means perfect, it emerged from bipartisan collaboration among many stakeholders, including business groups, labor unions, agricultural interests and immigration advocates.
The House has the opportunity to improve and fine-tune the Senate bill and pass something even better. Immigration has been studied in Congress for decades. All of the issues, challenges and solutions are well known. Further study is not needed; courage and action are needed. To continue to drag this out, to wait until after the next election, simply hurts Utah’s businesses and families.
Good immigration reform does not equal amnesty. I like to think of it as a very flexible, efficient and effective guest worker program. Employers tell me that most workers are not interested in becoming U.S. citizens. They want to work legally and have the ability to periodically return home. They will help build our economy and create wealth and jobs in Utah businesses.
Along with increased border security, we need a legal way for workers to come out of the shadows. We also need increased visa numbers for skilled foreign workers and a nationwide employment eligibility verification system. Legislation should incorporate the principles of the Utah Compact, supported by Utah business, civic and religious leaders.
Here are some important facts, provided by the Partnership for a New American Economy: (1) Immigrants started 28 percent of all new U.S. businesses in 2011, despite accounting for just 12.9 percent of the U.S. population. (2) Immigrant workers in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math are complementing – not displacing – their American counterparts. Foreign-born STEM students create 2.62 jobs for native-born Americans. (3) The Fortune 500 companies that boast immigrant or children-of-immigrant founders have combined revenues of $4.2 trillion – a figure greater than the GDP of every country in the world except the U.S., China and Japan. (4) Collectively, immigrants add $3.7 trillion to U.S. housing wealth. Each of the 40 million immigrants in the U.S. adds, on average, 11.5 cents to the value of the average home in their local county.
I encourage our Utah representatives to work with Speaker John Boehner to craft, in a timely fashion, a solution to this federal problem that is damaging the nation’s well-being and hurting job growth and the economy, while also keeping millions of people hiding in the shadows, less able to lead productive lives.
A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.