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Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis Calls Immigration Reform an “Economic Imperative”

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In honor of Labor Day yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis wrote this piece reminding readers that “immigration reform is an economic imperative.”  Immigrants have founded or co-founded 18% of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies, she writes, producing $1.7 trillion dollars in revenue and employing more than 3.6 million people.  And immigrant laborers and agricultural workers contribute just as much to the economy as their high-tech brothers and sisters do.  For this reason, comprehensive immigration reform must be pursued for all, if the U.S. is to regain and retain its competitive edge.

You can read Solis’ full op-ed here.  An excerpt is below:

Too often, immigrants work in an underground economy—earning unfair wages, suffering unsafe conditions and hiding from authorities. This is not only wrong, but economically self-defeating. For generations, immigrants have helped to bring prosperity to America through entrepreneurial spirit and sweat equity. Given their economic potential, why would anyone want to shut off the tap of foreign- born talent? Why force willing wage earners—and potential taxpayers—into the shadows with no path to legal citizenship?

I’m perplexed by the questions—because the answers seem so obvious. Yet the current U.S. immigration system does exactly these things.

We educate foreign-born workers at a faster rate than any other country. But our outdated immigration system often sends them packing, only to create billion-dollar companies in countries that compete against us.

Our flawed immigration system also threatens the country’s agriculture industry. Growers that can’t find field labor end up shutting down—or turning to undocumented workers.

I’ve heard the arguments: Immigrants take jobs away from native-born workers. They depress wages. Both claims are false. In fact, every immigrant farm worker supports three additional jobs—often in better-paying sectors. In high-skilled industries, the impact is even greater—with each immigrant worker creating five additional jobs. As for pay, studies show that native workers earn higher wages in areas with higher immigration.

If the status quo persists, America stands to miss enormous opportunities to accelerate our recovery.

I’m particularly concerned about undocumented young people who live in the U.S. because their parents came here seeking a brighter future. I think about them every time I talk about the DREAM Act — legislation designed to stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents, by giving them the chance to obtain legal status either by pursuing a higher education, or by serving in the U.S. armed forces. Sadly, the DREAM Act has yet to become reality, despite the economic value. Students who will benefit from the DREAM Act are projected to contribute well over $1 billion in tax returns for multiple years. That benefits all of us.