Immigration reform moving to the top of the national agenda holds out the possibility of faster growth for California and the Tri-Counties.
The obvious impact of proposals by the Obama administration and the Senate is the prospect of creating a path to citizenship for perhaps 1 million or more illegal immigrants living in the Golden State. This will have the benefit of getting a tangle of paperwork straightened out and it will put an end to shadow employment that is all too frequent in California. But the short-term impact of allowing illegals from Mexico and Central American to fully engage with the economic and political systems may be muted. Some have returned home because of the housing bust; others have found paths to jobs, drivers licenses and health care.
Perhaps just as important in the tech-centric Highway 101 corridor is a proposal in both the White House and Senate plans to allow foreign graduate students in math and sciences to get automatic access to green cards and a path to citizenship. Rather than shipping the world’s smartest people back home, we will be welcoming them and providing a huge carrot for them to create companies and jobs.
California’s access to the Pacific Rim, its universities, its base of tech companies and its access to venture capital are huge pluses when it comes to recruiting and retaining foreign-born entrepreneurs.
If he wants to fully restore the state’s golden era, Gov. Jerry Brown may want to rethink his California-first philosophy when it comes to the University of California and California State University systems. Making room for innovators to come to our state and create a new generation of companies for the 21st Century may be a better path.
Finally, we’d suggest that for illegal immigrants already in the Tri-Counties, the real benefits of a path to citizenship will remain years down the road. That’s because many of the undocumented residents of Simi Valley, Oxnard, the South Coast and the Central Coast have their own talents for enterprise. While they may not hold advanced degrees, some have the kind of internal drive that is necessary to create successful small businesses. From the immigration reform of the mid-1980s came a torrent of successful companies that added millions of jobs to America’s payrolls over the next decade.
We see the biggest long-term benefit of immigration reform as its ability to offer millions of undocumented workers a chance to be their own boss.