Cities Support Immigrants as Congress Refuses to Act



Earlier this week, newly elected Speaker of the House Paul Ryan confirmed a suspicion most immigration reform advocates have sensed for years now: that the House will once again refuse to consider comprehensive immigration reform legislation. “I do not believe we should advance comprehensive immigration legislation with a president who’s proven himself untrustworthy on this issue,” Speaker Ryan announced emphatically on “Meet the Press.”

The pronouncement was disappointing, but not surprising. Comprehensive immigration reform—which includes considering amnesty for the country’s 11.5 million undocumented immigrants, funding border security measures, as well as updating the nation’s high-skilled visa system to reflect changing economic demands—has long been a contentious political issue. Yet while comprehensive reform remains a pipedream until at least 2017, immigration reform advocates can look beyond Congress for incremental signs of progress.

The Partnership for a New American Economy, for instance, is highlighting the work being done in cities across the United States to welcome and support immigrants for their noteworthy contributions to these metropolitan areas. Two recent reports highlight immigrants’ impact on the local economies in Cincinnati and Denver. In addition to contributing billions of dollars in spending power, the immigrant community is particularly important to these cities’ tech industries. In Cincinnati, foreign-born workers represent more than 10 percent of local STEM workers, 6.8 percent of the high-tech workforce, and 11.3 percent of all information technology workers. In Denver, more than one in four professional, scientific, or technical service workers are foreign-born.

Other municipal leaders and business communities have recognized these positive results. In late September, the Greater Des Moines Partnership, a central Iowa business alliance, announced efforts to develop a plan to attract more immigrants to the region in order to boost the area's workforce. In Tennessee, where cities like Nashville have seen the foreign-born population double since 2000, a non-profit called Welcoming Tennessee was established in 2005 to highlight immigrants’ contributions to the local economy. The Atlantic reports on how  Welcoming Tennessee spurred a wider movement: “Welcoming America” is now a national network of organizations that help immigrants navigate their new homes and identify resources to help with everything from filing taxes to starting a business.

Earlier this year, we also wrote about several innovative models that support foreign-born entrepreneurs building their companies here in the U.S. The Entrepreneur in Residence program, pioneered in Massachusetts, has recently expanded to Colorado. A new startup fund called Unshackled enables immigrant entrepreneurs to focus on their new ventures by sponsoring their visas.

Finally, some of the President’s executive actions, (the purported reason Speaker Ryan refuses to move forward with comprehensive reform), announced about a year ago, could soon be implemented, making slight improvements to the pathways for immigrant entrepreneurs. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) heard from entrepreneurs, investors, and startup advisors earlier this year when considering new guidelines for granting work visas. We hope to see these guidelines officially adopted soon to create more room for immigrants to start new companies and create new jobs here in the U.S.

As the White House initially stated in its announcement, “there is no substitute for legislation to fix our broken immigration system,” but while we wait for 2017, local policymakers and forward-thinking business leaders shouldn’t be deterred from finding ways to support immigrants and recognize the undeniable contributions they make to this country, particularly as innovators and entrepreneurs.