Since last November there has been a lot of talk about how passing immigration reform this year will be “smart politics” given the role Latino voters played in the recent election. As a small business owner, I’ll leave the political forecasting to the pundits, but I can say this: failing to pass immigration reform, whatever the politics, would be downright knuckle-headed economics.
I’ve been recording history for over 40 years as a photographer, capturing events in people’s lives like weddings, proms, and graduations. So I know a big moment when I see one, and the moment for immigration reform is now.
Immigrants play many roles in our economy — as workers, as customers and as business owners themselves. How big are their contributions? Here’s one reference point: if some politicians got their way and all unauthorized immigrants were deported, we would lose $551 billion in total spending and $245 billion in GDP, according to a report by the Perryman Group.
On the other hand, if we do immigration reform right — strengthening the workforce and customer base for small businesses, creating a pathway to earned citizenship, and reducing red tape for businesses and workers — that kind of immigration reform will add $1.5 trillion to our GDP over 10 years.
That’s just the kind of shot in the arm the economy needs.
Now, business owners like me might be expected to prefer what’s called a “guest worker” program — temporary visas for immigrant workers, but without the opportunity to earn a path to citizenship. But actually, I don’t.
A guest worker program might help some employers, who want to take advantage of cheap foreign labor, but it won’t help the vast majority of responsible business owners and it won’t boost our customer base the way comprehensive reform will. The economic verdict is clear: reform based on a guest worker model (with no path to citizenship) would cut nearly in half the economic growth we can achieve from comprehensive immigration reform.
Of course, an issue like immigration reform is about more than dollars and cents. It’s also about values, about who we are as a country. As a small business owner, I don’t check my values at the door when I walk into my business, and we shouldn’t check our values at the door as we enter this debate, either. Our values should guide it.
For example: as a business owner, I don’t believe we should treat anyone with second-class status — not our workers, not our customers, and not the new Americans who come here to start businesses of their own. The American promise is the promise of a land of opportunity, and the American entrepreneurial spirit is about going big, not going half way.
As a small business owner, I also believe in treating my workers like family. And I know that when an employee’s family is torn apart by our out-of-touch immigration policies, it has a direct impact on workplace morale and productivity. That’s why I support immigration reform that reunites families or avoids breaking them apart to begin with.
Even with these compelling reasons to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform, there are still loud voices calling for costly enforcement-only approaches — more raids, more border patrols, more walls. But here’s what the president had to say about this: “I want to remind people, fearful people build walls. Confident people tear them down.”
That was a powerful rallying cry from a recently-inaugurated president. But it wasn’t President Obama. It was President George W. Bush, speaking to a crowd in Ohio more than 10 years ago.
As President Bush’s words make clear, immigration reform — common sense, comprehensive immigration reform, not more walls — can and should be a bi-partisan commitment. It is also long overdue. For small businesses and our economy, there’s no time to waste. Let’s capture this big moment.
Mark Anthony is the owner of Higher Vision Photos, a photography business in Edison, N.J., and a member of the Main Street Alliance, a network of local, independent small businesses.