Dear Congress: Immigration Is Not a Partisan Issue
Editor's note: This post is part of a series on immigration policy from Engine, a Silicon Valley based advocacy organization for tech start-ups. See below for other posts in the series.
As a Republican member of Ohio’s growing tech community, I’ve never felt at odds with left-leaning peers as a result of my personal political orientation. Why? Because we all agree on the fundamental tenets: start-ups create jobs, they power local and national economies, and economic opportunity can be good for everyone.
The national start-up community is increasingly politically united--supporting policies that encourage small business growth, reward ingenuity, and protect inventions, while leaving room for the iterative innovation that occurs when smart people work closely together--despite personal political leanings.
This is why the protracted battle in Congress over immigration reform is so maddening.
Studies have shown that immigration reform is good for GDP, and that we desperately need to attract, recruit, and retain the talents of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) graduates. In a recent New York Times column, David Brooks recalls some facts that we in the tech industry are already well aware of:
“Immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start new businesses than native-born Americans, according to a research summary by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of The Hamilton Project. They are more likely to earn patents. A quarter of new high-tech companies with more than $1 million in sales were also founded by the foreign-born.”
On Thursday, the Senate passed the immigration reform bill in a bipartisan fashion, overcoming some conservative Republican lawmakers who cited concerns about national security, raised objections over tenets of the bill designed for same-sex partners of immigrants, and even warned about a potential influx of newly-minted Democrats. But, this might be a hollow victory since objections like these represent majority opinion in the House of Representatives where the Senate bill might not even make it to the floor. The problem here, beyond a dysfunctionally partisan Congress, is that an essential outcome is being ignored: immigration reform is critical to keeping the American economy moving in the right direction, and keeping America on the map.
We’re competing in a global talent economy. The argument that high-skilled immigrants are supplanting domestic STEM workers is baseless, and far from accusations of depressed wages, recent research has shown that foreign-born STEM workers increase employment and wage opportunities for high-skilled native-born American workers (STEM and non-STEM). In other words, these workers are complementary to, not substitutes for, one another.
More importantly, both arguments ignore the simple fact that if we don’t hire the best scientists and engineers, or at the least keep the ones educated in American universities here to create companies, they will go somewhere else. Canada, or Chile, or other countries with programs expressly designed to attract high-skilled workers will gain the competitive advantage at our expense.
Immigration reform is an important opportunity for both parties to break the gridlock, restore our faith in Congress, and prove that ‘bipartisan’ politics is not just an ideal.
As an entrepreneur, I want to build a profitable business, and hire the individuals who can make that a reality--being conservative or liberal is irrelevant. It’s bad for innovation, business growth, and the economy when start-up founders are mired in immigration battles (for themselves or their employees), instead of focused on bringing a product to market. Immigration reform is pro-business, pro-consumer and pro-growth. Immigration reform is about progress, and building a system that works in a new global economy. This opportunity is not just for making deals across the aisle; we need to ignore the aisle completely and the tech sector is setting the example.
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