Last month marked a huge victory in the fight for commonsense immigration reform. The Senate Judiciary Committee sent a comprehensive immigration bill to the full Senate, one that is worthy of our values as a nation committed to freedom, entrepreneurship and diversity.
Senate action cannot come soon enough. Our outdated immigration system is long-overdue for reforms that meet today's labor force needs. It encourages the exploitation of low-skilled immigrants while creating barriers for their high-skilled counterparts. Many businesses, after giving up on the cumbersome immigration process, risk serious penalties for hiring undocumented workers. Many of the highly skilled, job-creating immigrants our region needs return to their home countries because of how hard it is to stay.
Thanks to the growing sectors of advanced manufacturing, energy, financial services, health and life sciences and information technology, Pittsburgh is in the middle of an economic rebound that may become the envy of cities across the nation. To maintain and increase the economic vitality of our region, we need more people and we need to put them to work.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair once said, "A simple way to take measure of a country is to look at how many want in ... And how many want out."
The same can be said for U.S. metro regions. There is a strong correlation between the economic growth of metro regions and their immigrant populations. Immigrants breathe new life into urban areas. Our region's business, civic and academic communities recognize this and are making a concerted effort to attract more immigrants to the region.
The Senate bill would revamp the immigration system for the highly skilled and provide a pathway to citizenship for 2.1 million young people who came to this country as children. This could add $1.5 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product over the next 10 years and create nearly a million jobs.
Nationally, immigrants contribute $700 billion to the economy per year. In 2011, immigrant entrepreneurs started one of four new U.S. businesses and employed one of 10 people working for private companies. In Pennsylvania, 9.1 percent of small business owners are immigrants.
While business and labor often disagree, the economic benefits for both workers and employers loom large enough that both the business and labor have united in support of commonsense immigration reform. Nationally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Service Employees International Union have endorsed the Senate bill. Locally, SEIU 32BJ and the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce agree that the proposed bill is good for our region.
Some opponents of immigration reform fear that immigrants will take their jobs, contribute to crime or abuse the social safety net. None of these concerns holds water.
Crime among immigrants is the lowest of any demographic. Far from taking advantage of the social safety net, immigrants are largely ineligible for food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid and contribute far more to the system in taxes than they receive in benefits. And at a time when local, state and federal budgets are putting the squeeze on taxpayers, immigration reform would net additional tax revenue of $4.5 billion to $5.4 billion over the next three years.
The American public supports immigration reform with a path to citizenship by a 2-1 margin. Miraculously, the growing consensus on immigration reform finally was heard above the partisan bickering in Washington, and Congress appears poised to act.
Our nation was founded upon the powerful idea that in this land, all people have rights. No matter what you look like or where you come from, everyone should get a fair shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The Senate immigration bill would give a fair shot to millions of immigrants whose livelihoods depend on it.
Our region's business and labor communities support the Senate bill and strongly encourage Western Pennsylvania congressional leaders to move forward with its passage.
Gabe Morgan is Pennsylvania director and vice president of 32BJ Service Employees International Union and Barbara McNees is president of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, an affiliate of the Allegheny Conference.