From Michael Hibblen with our content partner, KUAR FM 89 News:
A new study by the Partnership for a New American Economy suggests labor shortages are increasing the reliance on imported produce and slowing economic growth in Arkansas.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, heads of chamber of commerce groups, the Arkansas Farm Bureau and the Economic Development Commission, said it shows the need for the U.S. Congress to pass meaningful immigration reform.
The study says more fresh produce is imported into the U.S. today than ever before.
“This report mirrors what we have heard from our members and businesses, as well as elected leaders across the state, that our existing immigration system unnecessarily strains our ability to grow the economy to compete and bring new business and industry to Arkansas,” said Randy Zook, president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.
Beau Bishop, who leads national affairs for the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said often Arkansas growers can’t find enough people willing to do the back breaking labor needed to get produce to market.
“In some instances, farmers are left to leave crops in the field due to a lack of labor force. Immigration reform needs to be something Arkansans embrace because our economy and our future for farming depends on it,” Bishop said.
But it’s not just low wage jobs. The head of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, said changes need to be made to recruit people to highly specialized positions.
“We probably aren’t going to be creating enough engineers for a while, as hard as we’re pushing more and more students, particularly young women into the STEM fields and trying to encourage them in that direction,” said AEDC Executive Director Grant Tennille.
“If we want to keep pace with what we know industry needs, we’re going to have to get some of these folks from somewhere else and one of the surest and best ways to get them is to throw our doors open and say you are welcome here and you can make a life here,” Tennille said.
The group said Wednesday’s press conference will kick off a month of hearings around the state, pressing people to contact Arkansas’s congressional delegation and ask them to commit to passing immigration reform.

Report: Three-Quarters of Republican Business Leaders Back Immigration Reform

Written by February 5, 2014 in BusinessEntrepreneurshipReform with 0 Comments
5675608660_18d033c02b_zWhether as high-tech contributors within a large company or as the founders of their own businesses, immigrants play a critical role in entrepreneurship and innovation. Take the selection of Satya Nadella, an immigrant from India, as Microsoft’s new CEO. He originally came to the U.S. as an international student pursuing a master’s in computer science at the University of Wisconsin. Nadella is taking the helm of a global corporation just as immigrant innovators and entrepreneurs throughout the U.S. are forming startups and helping to build up local communities. According to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, the Midwest is a good example as it “cannot hope to keep up with other regions or international competitors without a vital entrepreneurial sector.” On Monday, the Chicago Council released a new report describing the results of their survey of 500 Midwest business leaders who represent a broad mix of business sizes and industries across the region. The survey questions revolved around four immigration issues: the impact of immigration on the economy and business, preferred components of an immigration reform bill, the need to expand low- and high-skilled visas, and the firsthand experience of businesses in hiring immigrant labor.
On comprehensive immigration reform, the report finds that 65 percent of Midwest business leaders strongly support the Senate’s (S.744) immigration reform bill passed in June 2013. The support for comprehensive reform is bipartisan, and the preference is for legislation that addresses many components of immigration reform rather than addressing individual components in a piecemeal approach. Specifically, 75 percent of Republican business leaders support the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, while 63 percent of Democrat business leaders support it, compared with 55 percent of Independents.
Additionally, two-thirds of Midwest business leaders surveyed support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers already in the U.S. One business leader who participated in the survey and who anticipates a mostly positive effect of immigration reform on small and medium businesses said, “With sensible laws that make it legal for immigrants to be here and apply to citizenship, business could find the resources they need to fill their labor needs, while worrying less about noncompliance with the law.” Another business leader who participated in the survey noted that eliminating the underground labor market would be an additional positive impact of reform: “Eliminating a ‘shadow’ workforce and economy would increase the tax base, reduce employee turnover, and speed assimilation of recent immigrants.”
Beyond the Midwest, business leaders in other regions are also concerned with Congress’ progress on immigration reform. South Carolina business leaders held a press conference in the state’s capital, Columbia, on Monday to support the push for federal immigration reform. Although their various industries have different concerns and needs regarding immigration, they noted that they’re pleased national leaders in Washington are poised to continue the discussion aroundimmigration reform in 2014 despite it being an election year. “It’s a priority issue that we go back and we have comprehensive immigration reform which includes protecting our borders and making sure we bring in legalized immigrants who can do the skilled labor and having them paying taxes, learning the language and being part of the community,” Mark Nix, executive director of the Home Builders Association of South Carolina, said. And Ivan Segura, president of the Council of Mexicans in the Carolinas, told EFE on Monday that “it’s good at last to see the business community reacting and acknowledging the economic contributions of immigrants.”
The immigration reform standards House Republicans released last week indeed acknowledge the importance of immigration for the economy. But these principles are only a beginning and lack the specifics of what could be in legislation. It is worth remembering that the proposals last year’s Senate comprehensive reform bill contain were carefully negotiated and agreed upon by business and labor groups to address concerns from all sides. “I often hear critics of immigration reform dismiss the views of businesses for being profit-seeking and looking for cheaper labor,” said Juliana Kerr, who directs The Chicago Council’s immigration initiative, “but businesses are the engines of economic growth and vitality, and in the post-industrial Midwest economy, we really can’t afford to lose them. We should be mindful of their labor force needs when considering public policies.” House leaders should keep these economic needs in mind as they craft legislation to fix the nation’s immigration system.

Sessions Blasts Big Business Push for Immigration Reform

 | November 27 2013
John Walker

“America Is Not an Oligarchy”

Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the straight talking Senator on immigration reform, has had enough of the hypocrisy of big business.
Speaking on a panel that discussed the American economy and U.S. immigration policy, Sessions nailed major CEOs for pushing immigration reform to import new workers on the one hand, while laying off thousands of employees on the other.
“These business people do not get to set the policy for the United States of America,” he said. “They don’t represent the United States of America.”
Sessions said he respects their self-interest, but pointed out that he represents the people of Alabama and all the people of the United States. He is looking at the big picture.
For months, Session has warned against special interests eager to pass immigration reform while millions of Americans struggle to find jobs in a depressed economy. He worries that a massive influx of new workers will only make the situation worse.
Sessions consistently criticizes an array of special interests that have worked behind closed doors to draft immigration reform legislation. Now he has singled out the danger of big business lobbying on Congress and the White House.
“America is not an oligarchy,” Sessions said in a statement. “Congressional leaders must forcefully reject the notion, evidently accepted by the President, that a small cadre of CEOs can tailor the nation’s entire immigration policy to suit their narrow interests. A Republic must answer to the people.”

The luminaries of Silicon Valley may not be known for flexing their political muscle, but leaders like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates continue to push and prod Congress on one issue near and dear to their hearts (and wallets): comprehensive immigration reform.
This effort appears to be the largest campaign by the idealistic Silicon Valley community on a big national issue and is being led by Joe Green, who co-founded pro-immigration reform advocacy group with Facebook (FB) CEO Zuckerberg in 2013
“In Silicon Valley, if you don’t like the way something works, you go around it. If you don’t like the taxi system, you build Uber. But you can’t go around Congress. It’s Congress,” said Green, who said many in the tech world find Washington “somewhere between confusing and disgusting.”
“Silicon Valley is the culture of ‘Why Not?’ D.C. is the culture of ‘Why?’ You’re always going up against institutional forces whereas in Silicon Valley you’re going around them,” he said. is among a diverse coalition of groups urging Congress to act on immigration reform, including the Chamber of Commerce, unions, religious organizations and countless think tanks.
The 501(c)(4) group is promoting a bipartisan policy agenda that includes education reform and supporting scientific research. But the focus right now is squarely on tipping the scales in the heated immigration debate.
Visa Reform Sought
“People always ask me why do a bunch of tech guys care about 11 million undocumented immigrants?” asked Green.
He pointed to Silicon Valley’s idealistic and entrepreneurial roots as well as the industry’s location in California, where immigration is a very real issue.
Green grew up in Los Angeles, went to a high school that was 40% Latino and had a friend whose parents were deported.
He said he remembers very clearly thinking: “This doesn’t happen in America. This isn’t the Soviet Union. Peoples' parents don’t disappear in the middle of the night.”
“There is a compelling case to be made that it’s good for the overall economy.”
- Greg Valliere of Potomac Research Group
The tech industry is one of several that also rely on immigrants as a crucial source of labor.
Silicon Valley for years has pushed Congress for visa reform as a way to attract and keep talented foreign-born workers. The industry has pushed the U.S. to offer more H-1B visas, which allow U.S. employers to temporarily employ foreign workers in specialty fields of work.
”Why do we kick out the more than 40% of math and science graduate students who are not U.S. citizens after educating them?” Zuckerberg asked in a Washington Post Op-Ed last year. “Why do we offer so few H-1B visas for talented specialists that the supply runs out within days of becoming available each year, even though we know each of these jobs will create two or three more American jobs in return?”
In addition to Zuckerberg, founding members of include Dropbox founder and CEO Drew Houston, LinkedIn (LNKD) co-founder Reid Hoffman, Jim Breyer of Accel Partners and Sean Parker, creator of Napster and founding president of Facebook.
Major contributors include former Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer, IAC/Interactive’s (IACI) Barry Diller, AOL (AOL) CEO Tim Armstrong and Netflix (NFLX) CEO Reed Hastings.
Economic Benefits Eyed
Nearly a year into its existence, has learned just how difficult it can be to get a major piece of reform through both houses of a very divided Congress.
“The politics are difficult,” said Green, who noted that 80% of Americans support immigration reform. “The 20% of Americans who are anti-immigration are really, really loud about it. You have a lot of Republicans in gerrymandered districts that are 90% white” and Democrats in red states who fear a backlash, he said.
Still, last year the U.S. Senate voted 68-32 with the support of 14 Republicans in favor of an immigration reform bill. However, the legislation remains stalled in the House of Representatives, where the GOP has pushed for a more piecemeal approach.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that the Senate reform bill would slash the U.S. federal deficit by $197 billion over the next decade and by $700 billion by 2033. The CBO also estimates that U.S. wages would be 0.5% higher in 2033 than under existing law after initially dipping 0.1% in 2023.
“Virtually every think tank in the city has said this would be good for the economy. It would eventually bring in 11 million new citizens who pay Social Security taxes and buy things,” said Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Potomac Research Group. “There is a compelling case to be made that it’s good for the overall economy.”
Critics have argued reform would hurt the economy by dragging down wages and adding more people to the workforce. House Speaker John Boehner has also pointed to distrust that the Obama Administration will enforce a new law.
Changing the ‘Risk-Reward Calculus’ has sought to overcome the political obstacles by deploying cash in support of lawmakers and candidates from either party who support immigration reform.
The group funds Americans for a Conservative Direction, which backs Republicans, and the Council for American Job Growth, which works in support of Democrats.
According to an analysis by National Journal, Americans for Conservative Direction spent $4.16 million on radio, cable and broadcast TV ads in support of reform between April and June of 2013. That’s more than all of the other groups spent combined either for or against the issue.
“We decided that district by district we are going to change the risk-reward calculus,” said Green.
Green, who said he works “very closely” with Zuckerberg, believes there is a “very good chance” the House will move on immigration reform later this year, especially once primary season is over.
Valliere believes there is no better than a 40% chance a deal gets done this year.
“There are still big obstacles to overcome. I think they are going to run out of time this year,” he said.
If Congress drags its feet on this issue in 2014, Green believes immigration reform could come next year.
“Every day this doesn’t happen there is a real human and economic cost,” he said.