By Lauren Ratcliffe
Published Jan. 11, 2012
Creating more jobs for Americans might be a matter of immigration reform.
That’s what business and research leaders argued before members of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce at their quarterly meeting today.
“You see on the news the discussion of undocumented immigration — illegal immigration — and how it’s destroying the fabric of our country,” said keynote speaker Richard Hermann. “Maybe it’s time for a new discussion.”
Hermann is an immigration attorney and author of the book Immigration Inc.
While debates have focused on border security and undocumented immigrants, finding ways to bring people, both skilled and unskilled, to work in America will actually create more jobs for native-born Americans, he argues.
Hermann and others say that to fix the problem of bringing more jobs to America, immigrants need to be a big part of the solution.
Immigrants, or the children of immigrants, created roughly half of the Silicon Valley tech companies and are more likely to have advanced degrees, invent something and start their own businesses, Hermann said.
“By delaying immigration reform, we are missing out on the benefits of job creation,” Herman said.
Thousands of foreign-born students graduate with advanced degrees from American institutions. Jeremy Robbins, manager of the Partnership for a New American Economy, cited Boeing bringing in engineers from across the globe as evidence for the need to reform legal immigration — especially of those with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“If we don’t get the right workers to fill those spots, there are going to be fewer jobs here,” Robbins said.
The skills American workers have don’t match the skills some companies are looking for, Robbins said. Particularly in technology-driven fields, immigrants are needed to fill spots so companies can grow.
In Charleston, immigration reform could help alleviate pressures on the hospitality industry, said Roger Warren, president of Kiawah Island Golf Resort.
He said a recent posting of 150 seasonal jobs drew only 10 applications and that allowing for easier legal migration of seasonal employees could help staffing problems.
Steven Mungo, CEO of Irmo homebuilder The Mungo Cos., said many immigrants come here with the intention of working and returning to their home countries.
But harassment and immigration laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration alone are threatening to rattle his industry. Mungo said some of his legal, Hispanic workers refuse to cross the state line into Georgia for work because of the harassment they receive under immigration laws there.
Herman said immigration laws that require people carry their papers at all times creates an environment where immigrants, and multinational companies don’t want to be.
“You want to be a mecca for talent, wherever it’s from,” Herman said. “Whatever the nationality.”