The immigration reform bill, currently in an amend-and-debate period in the Senate after recently winning an 82-15 bipartisan procedural vote, is getting national support and criticism. Today in San Antonio, Mayor Julián Castro stood with industry leaders to make a business case for supporting the bill.
“Our immigration (process) is broken and Congress has an historic opportunity to fix it,” Mayor Castro said this morning at a press conference, citing several aspects of the bill, “To ensure that we further enhance border security; to ensure that our legal immigration system – everyone who has played by the rules – has a better opportunity to become American citizens; to help make sure that when an employer hires someone he or she can be absolutely sure that person is here legally. (The bill) also creates a way for up to 11 million folks who are out there, undocumented, to become American citizens by earning their citizenship.”
Proposals within the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, or “gang of eight bill” (named for the eight senators – four Democrat, four Republican – that crafted the original legislation) calls for a path to citizenship for undocumented residents in the United States, an increase of available green cards, and improvements to border enforcement. President Barack Obama came out in full support of the legislation last week (watch his national address here). Mayor Castro added his perspective to the President’s call.
“I’m confident that the business community of Texas and (San Antonio) sees the benefit of passing this legislation. From high-technology companies that would benefit from more H-1B (work) visas to industries like the restaurant industry … that rely on lower-skilled workers,” Mayor Castro said. “Industries across the U.S. have said loudly and clearly that this immigration reform is good for business.”
Rackspace Chairman and Co-founder Graham Weston spoke of the tech industry’s local and national workforce struggles.
“We sell our services around the world … (cloud computer hosting) is a modern export,” Weston said. “Every single one of us (U.S.-based technology companies) has a shortage of talent. As a new industry, we have not developed the quantity of (qualified) people that are needed to support it.”
American companies are not outsourcing to India based solely on cheaper labor like they were a decade ago, Weston said. “Today they outsource to India because they can’t find the people they need here … It is much better for America for that talented person to become part of the brain trust of America.”
By no means are companies going to start hiring immigrants only, said A.J. Rodriguez, executive director of public policy and government relations for Zachry Holdings Inc., one of San Antonio’s largest employers. Zachry Holdings provides construction, engineering and maintenance services for industrial clients.
“Immigration reform is one part of a broader strategy to develop our workforce,” Rodriguez said after the conference. Zachry also supports local technical and engineering education at UTSA and Texas A&M-San Antonio and other higher education and workforce training programs.
“Zachry supports this policy because … immigration control and certainty make the U.S. economy more stable and stronger, leading to increased innovation and growth,” Rodriguez stated in a prepared statement.
The press conference was hosted at Zachry’s headquarters in south San Antonio and is the latest in a national series of talks between business leaders, policy makers, and press organized by Business Forward, a Washington D.C.-based trade association whose membership includes some of the largest corporations in the U.S., said Business Forward Vice President Greg Schultz.
“We’ve been traveling all over the country to facilitate these conversations,” Schultz said. “The system right now is not working for anyone … if we can fix immigration, have clarity in hiring and a pathway to citizenship and education, this can help fix the economy.
“When meeting with businesses in cities (like Atlanta, Portland, Madison, Little Rock, San Francisco, etc.) they’re not sure why (immigration reform) is even a question. It so obviously needs to change,” he said.