Please read this great op-ed on immigration reform by my friend Todd Stein:
Immigration reform is vital to America’s economy. That simple reality is driving four Republican senators, some of whom are the most conservative members of Congress, to champion the immigration reform bill now being debated on the floor of the US Senate.
Sen. Marco Rubio recently wrote that an immigration reform bill that includes bringing millions of undocumented aliens out of the underground economy “will improve the labor market, increase entrepreneurship and create jobs, leading to a net increase in economic growth.”
For Georgia, the economic stakes are high because of what immigration reform could do to sustain and boost Georgia’s “Essential Economy,” defined by a recent report by Georgia Tech’s Innovation Services Group as the goods and services that are essential to our way of life and that have to be produced right here in Georgia.
A significant percentage of the approximately 440,000 people in the state illegally makeup the workforce that drives Georgia’s essential economy.
That workforce includes the men and women on the frontlines of Georgia’s agriculture industry, harvesting crops, picking produce, and staffing the state’s many poultry plants. It also includes the hotel maids and restaurant workers, the backbone of the hospitality sector that makes Georgia an attractive place to visit or to start or relocate a business.
The essential economy workforce is made up of truck drivers, warehouse personnel and construction workers who have turned manufacturing, logistics, and trade into three of Georgia’s most promising prospects for long-term economic growth. And it includes landscapers as well as nursing home attendants and personal care assistants who are in increasing demand as the state’s population ages.
According to the Georgia Tech report, the essential economy contributed $49 billion in 2010 to Georgia’s gross domestic product and its workforce contributed more than $110 million in sales tax revenue through purchases of goods and services in 2011. Despite the national recession that began in 2008, the essential economy has remained a steady and often times growing part of the economies in Georgia’s 159 counties for the past nine years.
These numbers illustrate that the future of Georgia’s economy depends on sustaining and growing the essential economy, which in turn, creates the foundation for all the jobs in the aspirational economy – the high-skilled, high-wage jobs that Georgia continuously tries to create and attract.
The alternatives to immigration reform – maintaining the status quo or trying to deport the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally – are both impractical and potentially disastrous for the state’s economy.
The status quo does not work in part because Georgia’s population, like the rest of the country is aging. More than 60 percent of the state’s population will be more than 60 years old by 2030, according to the Department of Human Services.
As Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican pushing immigration reform, recently explained, “Unless there is another baby boom in America, the only way to bring new workers into the country is through legal immigration – hi-tech, low-tech, and everything in between. We will be cutting our throat economically if we don’t improve our immigration system to have more legal immigration.”
As for deportation, which Sen. Rubio explains is not a practical solution, many of Georgia’s business leaders can tell you that it is the worst thing we do could to the essential economy. Georgia learned that lesson with House Bill 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011. After the state legislature passed that law, approximately 40 percent of the state’s agriculture labor needs went unmet as unpicked crops rotted in the field, costing Georgia businesses more than $140 million.
Republicans championing immigration reform in the Senate have been instrumental in identifying bipartisan solutions to challenging issues like improving border security and addressing the inadequacies and dysfunction of our current immigration system. But they have also kept their focus on the issue Americans say they care the most about – improving the nation’s economy.
One of the best ways we can achieve a stronger economy in Georgia is to support bi-partisan immigration reform in Washington that gives business owners and their employees certainty about their futures, and ensures that our essential economy has what it needs most to thrive – a robust and vibrant workforce.
Sam Zamarripa, a former Georgia state senator, is founder and co-president of The Essential Economy Council. Todd Stein, who served as majority counsel on the U.S . Senate committee on homeland security and governmental affairs, is a lawyer with Kitchens New Cleghorn LLC and a lecturer at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech.