This month the Senate will be taking up comprehensive immigration reform and the outcome depends upon the bi-partisan Gang of Eight senators. While a substantive agreement was reached last week between business and labor leaders on a guest worker program, details remain outstanding.
While the senators try to hammer out legislation on comprehensive immigration reform that failed to pass in 2007, immigrant-rights advocates and others are spreading the word about how immigration legislation will economically benefit low-wage workers and local communities.
On Wednesday at the Tropical Restaurant in Mott Haven, Rep. Nydia Velazquez participated in a roundtable with small business owners to hash out some of the most important issues affecting businesses as it relates to immigration reform.
Organized by Make the Road New York’s (MRNY) business coalition, Small Business United, and the Queens Chamber of Commerce, the event provided an opportunity for local business owners to voice their support for immigration reform.
Edgar Andrade emigrated from Ecuador to the United States where he and his family now operate a hardware store in Bushwick. He gave a heartfelt speech about his journey and the difficulties he faced trying to succeed as an undocumented worker.
“As a person who came to this country as an immigrant, I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, I went through high school and I thank this country for that opportunity, but it was really hard to get a college education because I wasn’t a citizen,” said Andrade.
He said he has brothers in Ecuador whom he hasn’t seen in 14 years because they were deported back. He choked up and said, “It’s important for you to understand that reform is necessary.”
Daniel Coates, an organizer with MRNY, and staff from the Main Street Alliance, an organization of small business owners, presented the findings of a recent poll that revealed the majority of respondents out of 515 small business owners nationwide favor a roadmap to citizenship for immigrants already living in the U.S.
One of the key findings of the report show: “Republican small business owners (62% support, 31% oppose), Democratic small business owners (82%, 13%) and independent small business owners (65%, 29%) all support a roadmap to citizenship for current immigrants by margins of two to one or more.”
The groups also noted that immigrants play a pivotal in the U.S. According to the 2010 American Community Survey, immigrants earned a total of $1.1 trillion, and the Immigration Policy Center estimates that the purchasing power of Latinos and Asians, many of whom are immigrants, will reach $1.1 trillion and $775 billion, respectively, by 2015.
Should immigration reform fail and families continued to be displaced by deportations, the economic toll on the U.S. economy could be devastating. If all unauthorized immigrants were removed from the U.S., the country would lose over $550 billion in economic activity.
Rep. Velazquez, the top Democrat on the House Small Business Committee, which oversees federal programs and contracts totaling $200 billion annually, told LaborPress that she believes comprehensive immigration is going to pass.
“It’s going to pass. There’s no doubt in my mind it’s going to pass, but we’re at a crucial time and we have to understand that we have one shot at doing this and we have to get it right.”
In response to the significance of the agreement between labor and business, Rep. Velazquez said, “No longer will unscrupulous employers have the edge of exploiting undocumented workers. To me this is a win-win. It’s a win for our economy and it’s a win for the country’s labor movement.”
Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, echoed Rep. Velazquez’s comments about the significance of immigration reform reining in unsavory business practices.
“The current system undermines American workers and exploits undocumented immigrant workers. The status quo is not serving anybody’s interest other than the unscrupulous employer. That is what has to change.”
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