By Eva Millona
Today is the 232nd anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. Among immigration officials and immigrant advocates, it’s also known as Citizenship Day. It’s a time to reflect on what it means to be a U.S. citizen, and to recognize and encourage immigrants who are taking steps to become U.S. citizens.
I myself am a naturalized U.S. citizen. I am proud to be an American, proud to live in a country that has flourished by welcoming people from all over the world, and proud of the rich diversity of Massachusetts.
We are here today because we recognize that global talent is a huge asset for our economy. It adds value at ALL levels: from tech entrepreneurs and engineers; to workers in health care, elder care and hospitality; to all kinds of small-business owners.
- 27 percent of recent U.S.-resident Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, medicine, and physics and 25 percent of recent MacArthur “Genius” Fellows are immigrants.
- One quarter of US high-tech firms established since 1995 have had at least one immigrant founder. These new companies employ 450,000 people and have more than $50 billion in sales.
- A Pew Research study projects that as baby-boomers and working-age adults who are US born and whose parents are US born decline, immigrants and their US born children will drive growth in the US labor force with an increase to 25-64 million by 2035.
And right now, that talent is under threat. A president whose own businesses have long benefited from immigrant labor – documented and undocumented – has put extreme xenophobes in very powerful positions, and they’re doing enormous damage.
We hear daily about the human rights crisis at the border: family detention camps, children separated from their families, the dismantling of the asylum system, the reduction of the number of refugees to the lowest level in history capping the program at 30,000 which represents a 70 percent cut from the level when President Obama left office, and reducing the family-based immigration with public charge policy changes.
We advocates are fighting tirelessly to stop these policies and ensure that Massachusetts remains a welcoming state.
And as business leaders, you know there’s an economic side to this story that is also profoundly troubling. This administration’s policies also target the immigrant and refugee workforce, undermining the key driver of our economy.
Twelve thousand people in Massachusetts – including highly valued workers in health care, hospitality, transportation and construction – face deportation as soon as January due to the end of Temporary Protected Status for Central Americans, Haitians and Nepalis. If it wasn’t for a federal court injunction, they would all have lost their work permits already.
Almost 6,000 Dreamers in Massachusetts, the overwhelming majority of whom are employed, have DACA because of pending lawsuits. Their fate will be decided this term by the Supreme Court.
H-1B visas, which are critically important for Massachusetts’ high-tech companies, are being delayed and denied at levels we’d never seen before. Denial rates for new H-1B petitions rose from 6 percent in fiscal 2015 to 32 percent in the first quarter of fiscal 2019. The administration is also ending work permits for the spouses of H-1B visa holders, which will remove 100,000 highly educated immigrants, mostly Indian women, from the work force.
With respect to all the talent we attract through our world-class colleges and universities, this administration has also dramatically reduced student visa approvals, built up huge backlogs of pending cases, and caused a decline of 42 percent of student visas compared to last year. This industry of 1.1 million international students that brought close to 40 billion dollars to the US economy is at risk.
The business community is the most influential voice that our political leaders seek for guidance. We need to work together, and we need to make it clear that this is not about partisan politics – it’s about what’s right for our country and our economy.
We’re very pleased to have the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber join the Massachusetts Business Immigration Coalition. I invite each of you individually to get involved as well. I invite you to join our campaign for the Safe Communities Act, which we expect to have a legislative hearing in just a few weeks. We also urge you to support the campaign for driver’s licenses for all qualified drivers. And we encourage you to ask our governor to be a strong voice for our foreign-born workforce.
We need to speak with one voice, at the state and federal level. We need rational, humane policies that recognize that immigrants are valued members of our communities and crucial to our economy. We need our elected officials to understand that when immigrants are under threat, businesses suffer as well. Thank you!
For more information about the Massachusetts Business Immigration Coalition go to massbic.org.