Publications Éditoriaux de l'Ifri
Jesus 'Chuy' GARCIA

Linking Business and Migration Policy in the USA Intervention at the "Business and the State: Migration Policies, Diversity and Integration" international conference, January 13th, 2012 - Ifri

On Friday, the 13th of January, 2012, the Center for Migrations and Citizenship welcomed Jesus 'Chuy' Garcia - Cook County Commissioner, Chicago (USA) - as a speaker of its international conference "Business and the State: Migration Policies, Diversity and Integration".

Linking business and migration policy in the USA

Please find below the transcript of his speech:

"Before I put forth a few thoughts about the US experience and the debate around migration policy, I want to tell you a couple more things about myself, in the interest of full disclosure. I am not necessarily an unbiased spectator in this topic of migration and immigration. I can't be because I am an immigrant to the US myself. I am a US citizen, you have to be to run for public office. I do consider myself an American, a Mexican-American at that and I have spent all of my adult life being an activist and advocate for the Mexican-American, Latino, immigrants and people of color, community, racial minorities in the US in particular. So that I also want you to know that I have an affiliation with a political party: the Democratic Party in the US. I won't necessarily be advancing partisan agendas perhaps in my presentation, but I just want you to know that. One more thing: I am not an academic and I am not an economist. I am generalist and more a common sense person in terms of my approach to life and to the work that I do on behalf of the people that elected me and the people that I work with as a volunteer in my community. So here we go.

First of all, I want to begin with a definition of integration that I subscribe to and I do favor the establishment and the creation of the US of a integration and intentional integration policy and that is why I like the definition of integration that has been advanced by someone that our next speaker (Kathleen Newland) I'm sure knows, I am sure, quite well and that is Michael Fix, the co-Director of the Migration Policy Institute National Center on Immigration Integration Policy. That definition is as follows: "Integration is defined as the process of economic mobility and the social inclusion of newcomers. Integration implies a two-way process that involves change on the part of not just immigrants but of members of the receiving community. Successful integration builds communities that are stronger economically and more inclusive socially and culturally".

A very brief reference to part of the experience in the US of a wave of migrations that have contributed to the great diversity of U.S. society and its heterogeneity is that while the language of integration is new, the concepts more accurately describes the real process of diverse communities' incorporation in the US that has occurred over generation. For example, Irish and Jewish immigrants originally ostracized by many social sectors have achieved social advancement; maintain their heritage and added their unique traditions to the US mainstream. This is part of the American experience, that put into a broader framework the idea of integration, and why I think it is very important that a policy be pursued.

The first thing I want to tell you is that the US does not have an immigrant integration policy. I think we should have. Why don't we have one?
- I believe that there is a prevailing idea in the country that has been lasting that we believe in individualism and that in America, an individual pulls him or herself up by their foot, their bootstraps and that we have a tradition of entrepreneurialism that probably has not resulted or encouraged the development of such a policy.
- I think the other prevailing thought is that assimilation happens in America and it happens to all immigrant groups who come to America.
- Three: the US has great ethnic and religious diversity in its population, so it doesn't need. Everything seems to be working OK so far so we haven't needed one.
- Fourth: in good economic times, things seem to be keeping everyone busy and working so we don't think much about developing such a policy and lastly, in bad times like the present recession, we have an acrimonious debate around immigration policy. There are a patchwork of approaches that are left to the States and to local municipalities and communities to attempt to engage in a process of integration of immigrants into our society.

I want to next share a few statistics. I am not an economist but I thought these statistics help us create a frame of reference for what is occurring in the US right now in terms of immigration policy and the integration issue. I would like to just recall that the US economy is 14 trillion dollar enterprise a year. Presently, 15% of the US workforce is foreign-born. There are 38 million foreign born immigrants in the US today. It is estimated that are between 10 and 12 million unauthorized or undocumented workers in the US. In the State of Illinois where I reside from, where I served in the Illinois State Senate, it has a population of 11 million people. 1 of every 7 residents in the State is an immigrant, probably helping to explain why the State is one of the friendlier, perhaps the friendliest in the nation to immigrants. There are 1.6 million immigrants in the Chicago metropolitan area. I think the figure now is closer to 2 million in the metro area. In the city of Chicago alone, there are 558 000 immigrants in the City comprising 20% of the city population. Another reason I think why Chicago is one of the friendliest cities in the country for immigrants as are New York and Los Angeles, California.

Back to the State, Illinois is one of the most friendly States in the US, as I stated previously. Its governors both Republicans and Party members, as well as its legislature over the past several decades have helped shape policies that provide services to immigrant communities, going back at least thirty years. A recent example was the establishment in Illinois of welcoming centers in three locations in the Chicago metropolitan area. These welcoming centers help people obtain vital services; provide them with English as a second language ability; they work with churches; they work with other immigrant groups that provide essential services to the community. Illinois has also been at the forefront since welfare reforms took place in the US in insuring that benefits once provided by the Federal government were assumed by the States after Bill Clinton's welfare reform block took effect in 1996 and we engaged in things like passing laws having to do with language assistance in places like hospitals and interpreters to insure that immigrants are being attended to when they are in emergency rooms; when then need critical translation services, interpreter services in different settings. It also has a tradition of supporting bilingual education. Last year, when States like Arizona, Alabama and South Carolina enacted legislation that required immigrants to carry their papers at all times and provided other immigration enforcement measures to local authorities like police departments and school officials, Illinois governor Patrick Quinn pulled Illinois out of the Federal government's Secure Communities Initiative which was begun in 2008 and we were participating in it. That program was designed supposedly to identify and remove "the most serious criminal offenders from the US". We saw that the impact of that practice was having a chilling effect in the immigrant community, driving people into the shadows of society, and the governor ended that relationship with Secure Communities. What will happen remains to be seen. Legal actions will take place. It has not yet.

Given that the US congress has failed to consider and adopt any comprehensive reform to deal with America broken immigration system, since 2005 State legislatures have been considering and sometimes adopting thousands of bills seeking to regulate immigration. Immigration has become a local political issue and there are cases that are going to be heard by the country Supreme Court having to do with the constitutional aspects and challenges to some of those laws that were enacted in some of the States that I mentioned earlier. Immigration policy by its very nature is contentious because it taps into the core of what it means to be a citizen. Who gets to be a citizen and what responsibilities go along with citizenship? But the debate around U.S. immigration has grown increasingly discordant over the last few years. The country's economic crisis has weakened the coalition advocating on behalf of immigrants. In 2006, when the economy was roaring, business leaders and others were clamoring for labor policies that would attract foreigners to fill jobs left vacant by less than 5% unemployment, at that time. Today, in an economy of close to 9% unemployment, fewer employers need and advocate for foreign labor. Unless there is a significant economic recovery, we are not likely to see a call for immigration reform on the part of employers.

Who is involved in the U.S. in the discussion around setting and creating policy on immigration and immigrant integration issues? Stated differently, do business groups influence the Congress on these issues? Yes, they do. Who is involved? Organizations like the United States Chamber of Commerce, agribusiness and larger firms have a constant presence in Washington DC. in the National Legislature. An example of a leader of industry who is at the table and has been active and calling for comprehensive immigration reform is the Chief Executive Officer of Boeing - as an example of business leaders, employers who are engaged in this. Organized labor frequently is at the table and engaged in lobbying efforts, and labor unions are not always a sector that favors immigration reform. They are divided. Some unions favor it, other unions are more restrictive, so there is a spectrum of opinion in terms of that sector. For example, the largest union of truck drivers is opposed to truck drivers from Mexico being on U.S. roads, as an example of divergence in their approach. Civil society groups, ranging from not-profit-organizations or NGOs to religious groups also engaged the Congress in lobbying for immigration policy change and also on integration issues. We don't have an immigrant integration policy in the US but we do have affirmative action, initiatives. The General here today is going to be talking about that and one of the most successful stories is integration in the US army. Affirmative action has produced significant results in removing discriminatory barriers versus African-Americans, Latinos, women and other minorities in education, employment and in business development. The General will share with us what the success of the U.S. army has been in that regard. In terms of the immigration and integration debate, I just want to highlight about the most significant aspects of the immigration debate:

The benefits of immigration as they have been put forward consistently over the past five years is that immigrants' contributions to Federal States and local revenues in the form of income, property, sales and other taxes and fees is significant. Contributions to the Gross Democratic Product of the country in the form of consumer spending is also significant, estimated to be around 848 billion dollars a year; contributions to economic output and national income based on immigrants' influence on labor productivity. The White house council and economic advisors has determined that there is a net positive effect on the economy and on the income of the native-born workforce. It is not very significant but still it is a positive one and the contributions to job creation and new business formations can be witnessed in places like Silicon Valley, the North Carolina triangle and other States like Texas, New Jersey and Massachusetts. And there are immigrants who play a significant role in the development of this sector of the economy in the U.S. I believe estimated around 25% in terms of significant actors in the field. There is also of course the contribution of cultural diversity. It is much more difficult to quantify but in a country as diverse as the US certainly one would think it would make sense to develop these assets and thus an immigrant integration policy.

The cost of immigration on the other hand has to do with public education. It is estimated that education is the greatest expense borne by the State, namely educated the children of the 10 to 12 million undocumented people deemed to be in the United States without proper authorization. Health care is another of the areas of cost in the US. The undocumented have the highest uninsured rates in the country. Another significant cost: law enforcement and criminal, everything having to calculate from border enforcement, the beefing up of enforcement mechanisms at the border and with initiatives like Secure Communities throughout the country and other initiatives on the part of the immigration and customs enforcement entity are part of that cost and finally welfare. Although it is estimated than less than one per cent of all the undocumented population actually receives welfare benefits because most federal law and States laws preempt them from receiving those benefits. One of the organizations that I have been a part of that is an immigrant-led organization that has members throughout the country is the National Association of Latino and Caribbean communities and that organization has advanced the following areas as part of the ingredients that could comprise an immigrant integration policy. They would be the following elements:
- English as a second language and adult education opportunities,
- legal services and naturalization facilitation,
- voter education and outreach,
- access to jobs that pay a living wage and uphold workers' rights,
- healthcare resources and education,
- access to financial education, asset building and other financial resources,
- high quality and pre-K education for the children of immigrants and access to higher education of youth,
- acknowledgement and strengthening of cultural identity.

In essence, the policy recommendations that we would make to keep policy holders and that we do make on regular occasions in Washington D.C. would be three areas:

  • one: that the US should develop a national immigrant integration program that invests resources into local community-based organizations with local approaches to integrating newcomers into the nation social, economic, politic and cultural fabric;
  • two: immigrant organizations need to be at the forefront of the process of creating such an integration agenda and designing models for public non-profit partnerships;
  • three: public and private funding sources should invest resources into developing the leadership programs of immigrant-led organizations with the goal of enhancing civic participation and expanding the capacity of innovative but underfunded groups in different regions of the country".


Business Immigration immigration policy United States