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Op/ed: Immigration reform can move our economy forward


By Daniel Grossman and Mick Hellman on May 10, 2013

From the business parks of Silicon Valley to the fields of the Central Valley, immigrants help fuel California’s economic engine. Unfortunately, our nation’s immigration policies resemble a badly tuned carburetor, restricting the full participation of immigrants in our system, choking them and us of oxygen we need to reach our full capacity.  When our nation delivers an immigration process based on inclusion, equality, and opportunity for all, our economic engine will roar and not just sputter. It’s time to get the hood open and fix that carburetor.

That’s why, as California business people and entrepreneurs, we’re glad to see the unveiling of the most comprehensive overhaul of our immigration system in decades. With this move, we’ve taken a giant step toward common sense reform that opens a path to citizenship for most of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

Such reform would allow immigrants to legally contribute to the growth of our businesses, get access to better wages as well as to critical social services.

Immigrants are vital to industries ranging from agriculture and food preparation (the person who harvested or cooked the meal you just ate) to technology (the person who designed the search engine that may have brought you to this article).  So, we are also glad to see on the table an expedited path to citizenship for farmworkers, as well as new visas for low-wage workers, foreign-born entrepreneurs and tech employees.

Despite this good news, the proposed reform also includes some flawed assumptions about how best to update the nation’s immigration system. Chief among these faulty ideas is that more red tape in the workplace, and more costly measures at an already secure border are necessary ingredients of reform.

They aren’t. They’re robbing all of us of economic potential, and imposing a deeply unjust burden on human beings to boot. These measures not only go against the values that make this nation great — they’re also bad for business. What reform should not do is threaten the livelihood of countless productive human beings, harm their families and hinder the success of the businesses they work for by imposing flawed employment verification programs that would significantly increase the burden of businesses, especially small businesses.

Red tape isn’t just interfering with economic productivity at the workplace – it’s also choking commerce at the border. After a decade of improvements, numerous studies show that our borders are more secure than ever before.  Instead of an increased spending spree on border enforcement, we should address the significant delays at our borders. Border communities should be gateways to commerce and trade, not chokepoints. But delays at the border’s ports of entry are costing U.S. industries billions of dollars.

Every minute of delay at the five busiest southern ports costs the U.S. economy $116 million, and the cumulative loss over the next 10 years could be as much as $86 billion according to a U.S. Department of Commerce study.

One of every three members of the California workforce is an immigrant. Every year, immigrants contribute a staggering $600 billion to the state’s gross domestic product. That’s more than Wal-Mart’s total yearly revenues.

Imagine how much more we could expand our economic growth by reforming our policies. According to the Center for American Progress, if we grant undocumented immigrants legal status in 2013 and citizenship five years later, the 10-year cumulative increase to the U.S. GDP would be $1.1 trillion.

In the coming months, our nation’s leaders will wrestle with many important elements of reform. As we work on fixing our broken immigration process, let’s leave wasteful, punitive policies in the rearview mirror. Let’s give ourselves the chance to see what we can truly do when we offer full inclusion in our system. It’s time for immigration reform that lives up to our nation’s values and drives our economy forward.

• Daniel Grossman is founder and former CEO of Wild Planet Toys. Mick Hellman is Founder and Managing Partner of HMI Capital.