By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
President Obama is calling for an immigration system that is smart, efficient and fair because it is central to his goal of promoting economic innovation and business development, says chief White House economic adviser Alan Krueger.
No country does a better job integrating and benefiting from immigrants than the United States, and immigration is seen as rejuvenating the workforce and business, Krueger said in prepared remarks before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington March 20.
“Common-sense immigration reform will harness the creativity and the energy of immigrants who want to start a business in America and strengthen our economy in the process,” Krueger told the Hispanic business executives.
“This includes immigrants who come to our country as family members of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, or as refugees fleeing persecution, or as students attending our colleges and universities,” he added.
Krueger said it is also true that immigrants start businesses at a higher rate than do native-born citizens. He noted that 40 percent of the Fortune magazine ranking of the top 500 companies in the United States was founded by immigrants and their children.
“Immigrants add to the labor force and increase the productive capacity of the economy,” said the Princeton University economist.
Currently the U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates that there are 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States, and approximately 1.3 million are under the age of 18. Both the president and the Congress are working to develop immigration reform legislation that will eliminate many of the issues currently troubling federal and state governments and communities across the nation. Reform hinges on a blending of initiatives that enhance border security and provide an avenue for undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship, Krueger said.
Meanwhile, a group of Democratic and Republican U.S. senators are nearing agreement on a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would include putting undocumented immigrants on a 13-year path to full U.S. citizenship without having to return to their home countries, according to the Associated Press and news reports. But any final legislation would have to win passage in both the Senate and the House of Representatives before going to the president for his signature to become law.
In addition, the legislation would create new criteria for border security, permit more high- and low-skill workers into the country and toughen standards for businesses, which must verify that their workers are in the country legally. The senators — known as the Gang of Eight — plan to introduce the legislation for Senate consideration in April, according to news reports.
“We are grappling with a number of issues, we really are, but I think we are making progress,” Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, told reporters the week of March 18. “Some of these issues are very complicated.”
Krueger said common-sense immigration reform creates a cascading effect on the U.S. economy, meaning more business expansion and development, which generates more jobs, and more customers for businesses.
Immigrant workers also enhance productivity and incomes for other American workers, he noted. Retaining talented immigrants once they complete their higher education in the United States helps to set up the cascading impact on the economy.
According to the nation’s colleges and universities, immigrants make up 14 percent of all employed college graduates in the United States, but they account for more than half of all doctorates in mathematics, computer science and engineering occupations.
“We can encourage more of these and other immigrants to come here if we allow them to bring their families,” Krueger said. “Immigration reform would keep immigrant families together, allowing them to be united in a timely and humane manner.”