Nation needs a sensible approach to immigration

In recent weeks, immigration has been at the center of our national conversation. The essential role immigrants play in our country and economy, however, is not receiving the attention it deserves in this vital debate. We may not perceive the impact of this issue in eastern Connecticut, but I would like to explain why this debate is important to our region and our state.

Recently, the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut joined 59 chambers from across the country to sign a letter to congressional leadership in support of working in a bipartisan fashion to reach a sensible solution for Dreamers and those with temporary protected status.

The Dreamers are those young adults who, as children, were brought into the country outside the legal process. Those with temporary protected status are from certain designated countries who are given legal, but not permanent status in the United States because their native countries are affected by armed conflict or natural disaster.

The letter, sponsored by New American Economy (NAE), makes a compelling argument about how these long-term U.S. residents contribute to the economy and pay taxes, open businesses and create jobs, and add to a diverse and talented labor force. As a group they represent $5.8 billion in spending power and over $4 billion in tax revenue. Conversely, their deportation would cost taxpayers $63 billion, as well as billions in future economic growth.

It’s time we recognize the vital role that immigrants are currently playing in America’s economic future. As U.S. birth rates decline, 48 percent of population growth in 2018 is attributable to immigrants, and as a nation we are becoming increasingly dependent on immigrants to fill jobs and fund programs, including Social Security and Medicare, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Immigrants are essential to economic growth as major contributors to the workforce. Immigrants represent 14 percent of the U.S. population, but started a quarter of all new businesses, reports Time. That 14 percent of population constitutes 16.9 percent of the workforce because immigrants are younger, balancing out the enormous wave of retiring Baby Boomers. A Brookings report puts the total annual contribution of foreign-born workers at $2 trillion, or about 10 percent of the GDP.

Connecticut is tracking a population decline of 0.13 percent, but we are seeing a percentage of immigrants slightly higher than the national average, 14.7 percent. It’s important that we see the opportunity in these numbers, by creating a welcoming environment for immigrants looking to locate in Connecticut, particularly in eastern Connecticut, where we are trending below the state average at 7.1 percent, according to NAE.

Many of these immigrants bring youth and enthusiasm to a labor market eager to train workers in needed skills, while 17.9 percent hold bachelor’s degrees and 19.2 percent have advanced degrees.

When we as a region are facing challenges in meeting labor market demands, it is common sense to look objectively at the positive impact immigrants are making on the economy and labor force. We need to encourage elected officials to enact a fair and sensible immigration policy that allows us to benefit from the value immigrants bring our country and economy.

Tony Sheridan is president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut and a former first selectman of Waterford. He emigrated from Ireland at age 19.

 

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