It is economically imperative for America, and the Midwest specifically, to further embrace immigrant populations into its workforce, according to a panel of Illinois’ business executives who urged immigration reform today at The Chicago Club.
The panel, which was comprised of members of the Chicago Council On Global Affairs’ Task Force on Immigration and U.S. Economic Competitiveness, introduced a recent report (PDF) that discusses the role of immigrants in the corporate sector. The group also encouraged members of The Chicago Club to support economic policies that would advance immigrants in the job sector.
“We as a nation must work harder to
attract and retain immigrant talent and avoid wasting the potential of
the immigrants already here,” the report reads. “Our problem: the
nation’s broken immigration system is holding back the region’s economic
growth and clouding its future.”
Moderated by Niala Boodhoo, a WBEZ Chicago Public Radio business reporter, the panel consisted of Clare Muñana, president of Ancora Associates, Inc., John Rowe, chairman emeritus of the Exelon Corporation, and Samuel C. Scott III, retired chairman, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Corn Products International, Inc.
“The more talent we have to hire, the happier we are," Rowe said during the panel discussion. “The challenge with the business community is not to get its support, the challenge is to get active, effective and committed support because every business owner or business executive has 100 issues on his or her plate, and unfortunately, typically 20 or 30 of them involve politics and you only have so much political capital to spend.”
“The challenge with corporate leadership is always, ‘well, do I want to risk my company in any way for this issue?’”
Also included on the 53-person Task Force on Immigration and U.S. Economic Competitiveness is former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who is a co-chair and listed as an author of the report; Dave Bender, executive director of ACEC-Illinois; Juan Ochoa, president of Miramar International Group, who was recently a candidate for Cicero town president; and former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar.
The Midwest, which the report defines as Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska, is home to 1.3 million undocumented immigrants. More than 200,000 came to the country as children.
“We truly are in a situation now where we are going to lose competitiveness if we don’t do something,” said Scott during the panel. “We have to make a change.”
Saying the Midwest needs “employment-based immigration that meets the needs of employers and employees”, the report gives broad recommendations for immigration reform, including increasing the number of Visas available to meet America’s labor needs.
It also recommends streamlining the process for temporary Visas so workers may come “quickly, easily and legally” for seasonal employment, a simplification of E-verify under a “uniform federal mandate” so employers may more easily confirm work eligibility, an increase in technology and communication between law enforcement agencies for stronger border security, and the passage of a federal version of the DREAM Act in Congress so the Midwest’s “best, brightest and most motivated young people” won’t lose out on the opportunity to work in America.
“The workforce of the future is already here,” said Muñana during the panel. “We need to enable immigrants to really thrive and achieve the American dream as we know it.”
With 350,000 in Illinois alone, there are 8.5 million undocumented immigrants that have been in the country for more than five years.
Naturalized Americans have fewer instances of poverty and higher graduation rates than their undocumented counterparts, according to the report. Researchers looked at nationwide Census Bureau data and found that among men, the median income is $47,000 for legal immigrants and $28,000 for undocumented immigrants. For women, citizens earned a median income of $37,500, while noncitizens earned $24,000.