IMMIGRATION REFORM

Why the Immigration Debate Hinges on the World Cup

Conservatives and liberals alike have latched on to soccer to frame the immigration reform debate.
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The U.S. may have lost to Germany in the World Cup on Thursday, but soccer remains very much in the spotlight--even taking center stage in the debate over U.S. immigration reform.

Conservatives and liberals alike are using soccer to make their respective points about the need to fix our immigration problems. From political commentator Ann Coulter who called the sport "un-American," to the impassioned pleas for reform from congressmen, soccer is now the emblem of both good and bad in the immigration argument.

Speaking on the House Floor this week to mark the one-year anniversary since the Senate passed a bipartisan bill on immigration reform, Representative Luis V. Gutierrez (D., Illinois) used a soccer metaphor to provoke Republicans, who let the bill die in the lower chamber last year. In a symbolic gesture, Gutierrez presented them with a "red card," which signals immediate expulsion from a game. 

In his speech, Gutierrez said:

[M]onths passed and Republicans turned their backs on their own Members, turned their backs on the American people, turned their backs on the business community, on Latino and Asian voters, and on those trying to save the Republican Party from itself. But I kept hoping the better angels in the Republican Party would tamp down the irrational and angry angels blocking reform the American people want and deserve...I gave you the warning three-months ago and now I have no other choice.[Flashing a red card.] You’re done.  Leave the field.  Too many flagrant offenses and unfair attacks and too little action while you run out the clock.  You are out.  Hit the showers. I’m giving you the red card.

Not to be outdone, the next day conservative firebrand Ann Coulter used her pulpit as a syndicated columnist to flash her own soccer card, suggesting the nation's interest in soccer is a sign of its moral decay.

She wrote in the Clarion-Ledger:

If more "Americans" are watching soccer today, it's only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy's 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.

As racist and offensive as Coulter's comments are, they clearly point to the divide between conservatives and liberals in passing comprehensive immigration reform.

FIFA estimates nearly a billion people tuned in to watch the World Cup around the world, and I can vouch that New York City, where I live and work, nearly ground to a halt for the few moments when the U.S. players streamed over the soccer green. Given the power soccer has had to unify the world, if only momentarily this past week, it's an apt metaphor for the American melting pot too, and one that so many entrpreneurs grasp at the core: we are a nation of immigrants, through and through.

There's hope that incoming House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy will show sophistication in handling the debate and in leveraging his new power heading up the Republican caucus to move immigration reform along. Until recently, he's had a pretty centrist legislative record, although he's been largely absent from the immigration conversation in the House. But as the New York Times points out, his Central Valley (California) district, which is home to some of the nation's largest farms, is disproportionately dependent on immigrant workers

Yet even if he can muster the will (and votes) to reform, he'll have his work cut out for him. Hopes for a comprehensive law in 2014 have been dashed following a number of political setbacks, including the June 10 loss by former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to Tea Party Republican, David Brat. Brat is less open to reform than Cantor. And many small business owners, and indeed entire sectors like technology and agriculture, depend on immigrant workers. 

Here's a quick breadkdown: about 12 million undocumented workers reside in the U.S., according to Pew Research Center estimates. About 70 percent of all agricultural workers are undocumented, according to American Nursery and Landscaping Association. And nearly half of all companies in Silicon Valley have at least one founder who is an immigrant, according to research from the Kauffman Foundation released in October 2012. These companies employ more than half a million workers and generate revenues of $63 billion.

And now that we've lost fair and square to Germany in a soccer game, maybe we can get to work on passing meaningful immigration reform, which the nation desperately needs, regardless of the sports metaphors we choose.

Last updated: Jun 27, 2014

JEREMY QUITTNER | Staff Writer | Staff Writer, Inc. and Inc.com

Jeremy Quittner is a staff writer for Inc. magazine and Inc.com. He previously covered technology for American Banker and entrepreneurship for BusinessWeek.




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