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Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Midwest business leaders show bipartisan support for the comprehensive immigration reform bill.

In Midwest, call for immigration reform on the rise

by Rose Zhou
Feb 26, 2014


United Vine Lines

Illinois ranked second nationally in out-migration in 2013, according to the annual study conducted by United Van Lines. Click to Enlarge.

Since President Obama urged Congress to move on immigration reforms in his State of the Union address last month, there’s been little consensus. While the Senate proposes a comprehensive reform plan that includes a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the House says that’s unfair to immigrants who came here legally.

As the labor force continues to shrink and the mid-skills gap continues to widen, more business leaders in the Midwest are supporting reform because they see immigrants as a viable workforce. And at a panel discussion hosted by Chicago Council on Global Affairs last week, most officials agreed that quality and quantity of labor force as a crucial representation of the economic health.

“It is essential from the economic side that we discuss with the American people the reality here,” said U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who was on the panel. “One of the keys is to understand the reality that a growing economy, and an economy with new people is how we are going to be strong into the future.”

Midwest Immigration reform would create 105,923 jobs in Illinois, according to a district-by-district research conducted by American Action Network, a center-right policy promotion center. Illinois has a nearly two percent higher unemployment rate than the national average and is losing labor to neighboring states such as Iowa, where the unemployment rate is half as high as Illinois.

“The gap between Illinois and its neighbors has been widening,” said Bill Bergman, research director for the Institute for Truth in Accounting. “The business climate and economic climate have not been conducive to growth in labor markets in Illinois as it is in other states close to Illinois, partly because of the financial condition of the government.”

A recent report released by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 75 percent of Republican, 63 percent of Democrat and 55 percent of Independent Midwest business leaders surveyed favor the Senate’s bill that includes a path to citizenship, combined with stricter border control.

The survey shows that Midwest business leaders recognize the need for immigrants at all levels, from high-skilled immigrants arriving on H-1B visas to agriculture workers who need access to year-round guest worker visas.

Free trade in labor is good for society, said Bergman, although he acknowledged that some Americans believe it will only increase competition for jobs.

“When immigrants are looking for jobs at lower pay than our currently being earned in a private sector in Illinois,” Bergman said. “Some of the people working in Illinois are threatened by that.”

Previous public opinion polls conducted by Washington Post and ABC showed that of all the regions in the United States, people in the Midwest are generally the least supportive of immigration reform. The polls also show that more than 50 percent of the population opposes citizenship eligibility for undocumented immigrants.

But business leaders continue to voice their needs to expand low- and high-skilled visas for immigrant labor.

“Whether or not immigration is bad for all of us is another question entirely. It’s possible we as consumers are benefiting, and United States is benefiting from immigration in the long run,” Bergman said. “And it’s probably good to retain the belief that the long-run, overall beneficial of immigration is good for all of us.”

Kinzinger said during last week’s panel that a broader security bill will likely coming out of the House, followed by a visa bill for high-skilled people. He said the immigration reform bill could pass right away if the Congress went with just legalization without pathway to citizenship.

“But I think if you look at where Republicans are, the moderates, the conservatives, what we would agree on, where are our bases, I think we are a lot closer together than what we think.