‘Immigration Compacts’ Are Good for Business

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- The immigration stalemate in Washington is more than a decade old. Before President Barack Obama tried and failed to push reform through Congress, President George W. Bush tried and failed. With Donald Trump in the White House, and the Republican Party in the grip of anti-immigrant fever, no one expects a resolution anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the pressure on industries that rely on immigrant labor — think technology, agribusiness, construction, and others — keeps rising. There’s a movement afoot to organize business interests in key states to put pressure on Washington from the outside. It deserves support.

The idea of an “immigration compact” supported by local business began in Utah during the Obama administration, when comprehensive reform still had a champion in the White House. Lately, this approach has caught on elsewhere, including in Florida, Iowa and Texas. (One backer of the idea, the bipartisan research and advocacy group New American Economy, was established by Bloomberg LP founder Michael Bloomberg.)

The idea is sufficiently basic that a broad swath of American business, as well as multiple states, can endorse it. The compacts consist of a handful of bullet points that emphasize support for immigrant families along with the need for comprehensive reform that balances enforcement with a path forward for undocumented immigrants. The compacts vary slightly by state. Iowa’s compact, for example, stresses the need for “policies that prioritize attracting and retaining international talent” so that key industries can get the skilled labor they need to thrive.  

While recognizing that immigration is a federal responsibility, these compacts put state politicians on notice that businesses see common-sense immigration policies as essential for a strong local workforce and economy. Plenty of facts support the claim.

A quarter of Florida’s workforce, or about one in five residents, are immigrants — and of these about one in five is undocumented. A majority of the state’s undocumented have lived in the U.S. for more than a decade. More than 25,000 registered Dreamers recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals live in the state. More than a quarter-million children, roughly one of every 14, are U.S. citizens living with at least one undocumented family member. In 2017, Florida’s immigrant-led households paid about $20.9 billion in federal taxes and $7.8 billion in state and local taxes.

Like Florida, Texas has a large immigrant population exercising enormous economic clout. In 2015, about 17 percent of the state’s population, some 4.7 million people, were foreign-born. Around 1.8 million Texas residents are undocumented. Policy proposals that simply wish such people away, or fail to account for their profound impact on the economy and society, are irresponsible.

Agriculture, construction and other interests are traditionally loyal components of the Republican Party. While business lobbies aren’t known to be shy in pursuing their aims, they haven’t exerted much influence on Republicans in Washington when it comes to immigration. The state compacts offer a vehicle to organize businesses locally, and make a united, coherent case to political leaders, including representatives in Congress, who should be sensitive to the needs of local businesses and communities.

State compacts on immigration don’t mark the end of the battle for immigration reform. But they can make a valuable contribution to what still looks to be a difficult, and very necessary, political fight.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

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