Immigrants contribute to national economy despite lawmakers efforts to reform

May 1, 2015

By Sophie Tatum
NNAF News Fellow | Nebraska News Service

WASHINGTON—Immigrants in the U.S. started 28 percent of all new businesses in 2011, and businesses owned by immigrants employed approximately 4.7 million people in 2007, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Although the immigrant population in Nebraska is significantly smaller than many other states, the impact that immigration has on the state’s economy is hard to ignore.

Nebraska’s immigrant population contributes to the workforce as business owners and employees in a variety of industries including manufacturing, construction, arts and entertainment, recreation and food service, according to the American Immigration Council.

Between 2006 and 2010, there were 3,905 new immigrant business owners in Nebraska, creating a total net income of $126 million, according to the American Immigration Council. Additionally, immigrant spending in Nebraska accounted for $1.6 billion worth of total production in 2014.

However, the impact immigrants have on the economy has yet to create an incentive for state and national lawmakers to take action for a long-term plan of reform.

“I don’t think we’re going to be addressing any immigration reform this year,” said Sen. Deb Fischer, R-NE.

A cohesive solution to immigration reform has been looming over politicians’ heads for decades. Presidents and congressional staffers alike have worked toward a comprehensive plan that attempts to regulate illegal immigration into the U.S.

“The president is going to continue to pressure on immigration and we’re going to continue to focus our enforcement priorities so that we are focusing on those who are actually a threat to our national security, public safety and our border security,” a White House official said in a briefing. “But it’s also in Congress’ court to fix it. They’re the ones who have the key to actually do something that’s permanent.”

In 2013, President Barack Obama took executive action after House leadership did not take up a bipartisan bill that was passed in the Senate. The bill, which passed with a vote of 68-32, was a comprehensive plan and included many aspects supporters of immigration reform on both sides of the political spectrum advocate.

The bill attempted to:

• Create a pathway to citizenship.

• Increase border security.

• Put resources toward mandating E-Verify among all employers.

• Include provisions of the DREAM Act, allowing young, undocumented immigrants to legally work in the U.S.

• Clear the backlog of people who had been approved for a green card, legally allowing individuals into the country.

These aspects of the bill, among other components, are what advocates for immigration reform are continuing to fight for today.

“It would have passed in the House, but leadership refused to take it up,” a White House official said in the briefing.

However, many critics of Obama were unsatisfied with this method and have worked to de-fund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Additionally, the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability was completely halted after a coalition of states filed a lawsuit against the president’s action saying it was unconstitutional.

“Instead, way back in 2011, the immigrant communities were pushing hard first on executive action on the DREAMers, the kids who were brought here when they were younger and did not cross the border themselves,” said Conn Carroll, the White House correspondent for the conservative website “Obama said ‘Nope, can’t do that. I have no authority to do that’ and then, boom, in June 2012, in the midst of a reelection campaign when he needed Hispanic voters, all of a sudden he has authority to do this just magically.”

As a result of Obama’s executive action DACA, the sister program to DAPA, was put into action during summer 2012. There are currently 4,000 DACA beneficiaries, otherwise known as DREAMers in Nebraska and a little less than one million recipients nationally.

Some criteria to qualify under DACA include being brought to the U.S. before their 16th birthday, having been in the U.S. for five years and being under 30.

The program allows individuals to legally apply for employment in the U.S. White House officials say this allows law enforcement to focus on illegal immigrants who are creating threats to U.S. national security.

This plan is not a pathway to citizenship, but is a two-year employment authorization in the U.S. The Obama administration said it offers young people, who were raised in the U.S. and are positively contributing to society, the opportunity to work. The program provides recipients a Social Security number, the opportunity to apply for a driver’s license in all states except for Nebraska, and it allows workers to contribute to taxes.

“This is not the only issue that is gridlocked in Washington, even though the support of the American public is there,” a White House official said.

An analysis done by Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers in 2014 showed the president’s most recent response to immigration would raise the level of U.S. GDP by .4 percent after 10 years ($90 billion in real GDP in today’s dollars) and would expand the U.S.’ labor force by almost 150,000 workers over the next 10 years. The analysis found this would have no impact on the likelihood of employment for U.S-born workers and could also raise average wages for U.S.-born workers by .3 percent in the next 10 years.

Currently, Nebraska is the only state that does not authorize DREAMers to have driver’s licenses, but a bill is currently being pushed through the state legislature with wide support from several senators and major interest groups, including the National Restaurant Association and the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Association. Opponents of the bill include Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Despite conflict for specific proposals related to immigration, some lawmakers recognize the issue overall can’t be ignored, “Immigration has to be addressed. I think it would be better addressed and you could bring people together on it on both sides if we would look at meeting different needs that are out there,” Fischer said.