FAIRFAX, Va., September, 18, 2013 / The Institute for Immigration Research at George Mason University hosted a panel discussion yesterday on the economics of immigration reform at its Arlington, Va., campus. Brookings Institution immigration expert, Dr. Audrey Singer, moderated the panel of five leaders from across the spectrum of public and private interests as they offered insights on the potential impact of immigration reform on the national and local economies.
The panelists were: Rep. Joe Garcia of Florida; Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum; Ryan Spiegel, Gaithersburg, Md., city council member; Dolly Oberoi, CEO of C² Technologies, Inc; and Don Heflin, managing director of the Visa Office in the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the US Department of State. Singer engaged the panel with questions such as: Where are we with immigration reform in the political process? What will it take to implement reform? What will reform mean for technology and engineering firms?
Afterward, Dr. James Witte, research director at the Institute for Immigration Research, observed, “Each panelist brought a unique perspective to the discussion, yet all agreed that our nation depends on immigrants and we need comprehensive immigration reform to make the system work better for our national and local economies. They each foresaw negative consequences of inaction and were surprisingly optimistic that some form of legislation would pass to fix the immigration system. ”
In talking about the need for a comprehensive immigration reform, Garcia stated, “Immigration is about our country’s survival.” The congressman noted many political obstacles to reform, but in the end felt immigration is so important to the country that legislation to address the issue would ultimately pass. He concluded saying, “Immigration is something that all great societies have…. You can’t have a great society without it.”
Noorani emphasized the need to engage conservatives by building a coalition with groups that have historically not advocated for comprehensive reform. He described the National Immigration Forum’s efforts during the recent congressional recess to work with members of law enforcement, the clergy and the business community to bring the immigration reform message to members of Congress in their home district. Noorani stated that coalition helped “win the August recess for immigration reform.”
Speaking from a local government perspective based on efforts in Gaithersburg to help the large immigrant population fully participate in the local economy, Spiegel pointed out that local government can often act more nimbly to implement policies that help the community thrive. Heflin added that the undocumented currently pay an estimated $10 billion in local taxes every year and this figure would go up to $12 billion once they’re legalized.
Oberoi said a reform bill would be a win for the whole country, “regardless of what side you’re on.” She recounted her own experiences as an immigrant coming to the U.S. from India and the challenges she faced with the U.S. visa system. Oberoi described more such challenges hiring and keeping some of the 400 talented workers she employs. Failing to resolve these challenges means the country risks “losing our best talent to our competitors.”
Heflin described the preparations the U.S. Department of State is making in anticipation of implementing immigration reform. He emphasized that the entire Obama administration is committed to making it happen and that the State Department, in particular, is ready to implement whatever legislation is passed by the Congress and signed by the President.
About the Institute for Immigration Research
The Institute for Immigration Research is a joint venture between George Mason University and The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc. of Massachusetts. Its mission is to refocus the immigration conversation among academics, policy-makers and the public, including the business community and media, by producing and disseminating unbiased and objective, interdisciplinary academic research related to immigrants and immigration to the United States. The Institute also hosts a monthly colloquium series of topics relevant to modern immigration. For more information, visit the website iir.gmu.edu.
Director of Research
Institute for Immigration Research
September 20, 2013