Immigrants in America: Open For Business | Commentary

If Congress would look at immigration reform as an opportunity, 2014 would be the year to make significant changes happen for the future of this nation.

In January, House Republicans took a step in the right direction. They showed promising determination on this issue in order to achieve a more secure America, a fair and streamlined system of legal immigration, along with an expansion of the flexibility of our nation’s labor force and economic growth.

The historic opportunity appeared to be a new tide in Washington in terms of immigration reform, but there are members on both sides that don’t appreciate the importance of immigration reform and its benefits to our collective future.

An overwhelming majority of Americans understand that the current immigration system is unacceptable, and they are demanding action from their elected officials. They are eager to see their politicians come together in true bipartisan support and get it done.

As a businessman, I recognize the vital impact immigrants have on our economy. They come to the United States to fill jobs that are available, or become job creators as entrepreneurs, consumers and taxpayers.

History has proven that immigrants made America what it is today. They became part of our communities, our businesses and our families. Hence, the time is now for Congress to realize that honoring our tradition as a nation of immigrants is good policy and good politics.

Immigrants are risk-takers, and according to the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, immigrants were more than twice as likely to start businesses in 2010 than were native-born Americans. Moreover, these immigrant-owned businesses are generating more than $775 billion in revenue and employing one of every 10 workers along the way. In fact, immigrants or their children founded 18 percent of America’s Fortune 500 companies, and generate $1.7 trillion in annual revenue, while employing 3.7 million workers worldwide.

The time is now for Republicans and Democrats to work together, along with the president, on broad immigration reform. This will not only reaffirm our commitment to building an innovative workforce that can compete globally; it will grow our economy.

Industry and skill level jobs require an immigration system that allows for a flow of experienced workers and new citizens that reflect America’s labor and economic needs. For example, the Brookings report “The Paradox of Worker Shortages at a Time of High National Unemployment” found that farm workers, nurses, high-skilled manufacturing workers and technology workers continue to be in short supply in the United States. Under these circumstances, temporary workers from abroad would benefit the U.S. economy through legal immigration in order to fill these specialized needs and respond to the labor shortages.

This is true in areas such as San Jose and Silicon Valley, Calif., San Antonio and Austin, Texas, and Boise, Idaho, according to “Immigration and the Revival of American Cities,” a report by Americas Society/Council of the Americas and Partnership for a New American Economy. Immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs have spurred local economies in these areas and that of the nation with high-skilled workers around the universities and research industries, the farming industry, the oil industry and many more.

Immigrants also create jobs as consumers. When immigrants spend their wages in restaurants, stores and production facilities, businesses are forced to respond by investing and expanding the workforce. For instance, a University of Nebraska study, “Nebraska’s Immigrant Population: Economic and Fiscal Impacts,” estimated that spending by immigrants generated roughly 12,000 jobs in their state in 2006. This included more than 8,000 jobs in the Omaha and Lincoln metropolitan areas.

The time is now for Congress to act on reform that enables a legal workforce and emphasizes accountability. Immigrants are not just an asset because they increase the workforce or keep the flow of money going; immigrants are also taxpayers.

Earnings generate more tax revenue for federal, state and local governments. Although the misconception is that undocumented immigrants do not pay taxes, the fact is that undocumented immigrants pay sales taxes, property taxes (even if they are renting), and have federal and state income, Social Security and Medicare taxes deducted from their paychecks. However, they are not eligible for any of the benefits their tax dollars help fund. According to the Social Security Administration, in 2010 undocumented immigrants paid $13 billion in payroll taxes into the Social Security Trust Fund — which they cannot enjoy.

The numbers don’t lie, and that is why we must act on immigration reform this year. This is a historic opportunity to come together and pass sensible immigration reform that will empower our nation with the exceptional potential we know America has. Failure to act is a mistake that will exact a price in the future for those who are standing in the way of a solution that most Americans want. It is a time to lead beyond political gamesmanship and push for reform that will inspire and defend opportunity, pursue the American dream and turn the United States back into an economic leading country.

Hector Barreto currently serves as the chairman of The Latino Coalition and is the former head of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

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