New England Council urges immigration reform
As originally appearing in Seacoast Online

By: Judi Currie

An organization that represents businesses across New England is urging action to prevent the loss of thousands of immigrant employees from the already tight labor market.

Jim Brett of the New England Council joined with the New American Economy last week in a media teleconference as a display of united support for immigrants, including an estimated 15,000 covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

The Dec. 6 event marked the launch of the iMarch for Immigration Campaign, a national day of action with online and offline events in all 50 states. The group called on Congress to take action protecting Dreamers as a first step to addressing what it says are longstanding economic hurdles within the nation’s outdated immigration system.

The campaign is launching as Congress considers a solution for DACA recipients.

In September, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced plans to end DACA, which has provided nearly 670,000 young immigrants a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the U.S., the Trump administration gave Congress six months to come up with a legislative fix and time is running out.

According to Brett, there is a misconception that individuals covered by DACA are not contributing, not paying taxes and not working.

“It is just the opposite,” Brett said. “We’ve looked at studies that show 95 percent of the DACA individuals that are located here in New England are employed. They are valued members of our workforce and are in the growing sectors of our economy, such as health care, technology and financial services.”

Brett said according to the Center for American Progress, if those under DACA were required to leave about a half a billion dollars in lost gross domestic product could result.

“We would lose a lot by having them leave New England,” Brett said. “We are focused on these 15,000 that are estimated to be here … we need them more than ever. We do have more jobs than we have workers … they are not taking people’s positions they are filling positions and making a contribution to the community.”

Brett said while the Trump administration made it clear it wanted to end the program it gave Congress time to come up with a compromise.

“Hopefully, Congress will come together and say we need some meaningful immigration reform,” Brett said. “We can’t have massive reform with the environment we are in in Washington, but we can have baby steps. Let’s start with DACA.”

Brett said 21 members of Congress from New England get the message, but there are 435 members in Washington, so they are urging the Republicans who are in charge to work together and come up with some compromise language to save DACA and begin meaningful reform.

“Preserving our nation’s proud history as a place that welcomes those who wish come, are here to make a contribution and pursue the American dream,” Brett said. “I’m a product myself; first generation, my mother and father came from another country.”

According to NAE, almost 75,000 immigrants call New Hampshire home and the recent increase has helped the state to stave off the sort of population decline that has affected Maine and Vermont.

Members of the state’s delegation, including Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen have been critical of the administration and urged action in Congress.

“We have nearly 400 Dreamers going to school and working in our communities throughout New Hampshire, and for many, it is the only home they have ever known,” Shaheen said. “Their stories are not unique and are shared by the hundreds of thousands of other Dreamers contributing to their communities across the country each and every day.

“The president’s decision to end the DACA program was callous and entirely unnecessary,” she continued. “Now, as Dreamers’ futures hang in the balance, it’s incumbent upon Republican leadership to overcome party infighting and allow Dreamers peace of mind and continuity. I’m continuing to urge a bipartisan solution to this artificial crisis that impacts the lives of so many.”

U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., said President Trump’s decision to rescind protected status for Dreamers is morally wrong and cruel.

“It hurts our economy and wrongly penalizes 966 New Hampshire young people,” she said. “They were brought to the United States as children through no fault of their own and America is the country they know and love. They are serving our country, going to school and working in our communities. It is shameful to destroy the only lives they have ever known when everyone knows they did nothing wrong.”

Shea-Porter cosponsored the Dream Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and Shaheen joined nine other U.S. senators in filing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to protect Dreamers and other undocumented military recruits from deportation.

Brett said they are also advocating for expanding the H1B visa program beyond the current cap of about 85,000 people. Companies must apply to bring workers over and show they are to fill the unmet needs.

“The federal government opens applications in April each year and within four days that’s it,” Brett said. “These positions are vacant right now.”

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