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Business leaders told to urge Congress to pass immigration reform

By Maria Saporta

The business community will need to take a leadership role for true immigration reform to occur during the next six months.

That was the sentiment that former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour shared Monday with the Rotary Club of Atlanta.

Both statesmen are co-chairing the Immigration Task Force of the Bipartisan Policy Center — urging the U.S. Congress to take action on meaningful immigration reform for the good of domestic economy.

“We got to get the business community to lean on Congress,” Gov. Rendell said. “We need the business community to weigh in and say it’s important. It’s a seminal issue for us.”

During a recent Atlanta Business Chronicle editorial board meeting with leaders from the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the need for immigration reform was considered a key issue for the business community.

Richard Anderson, CEO of Delta Air Lines who is chair-elect of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said  immigration laws in Georgia and the United States may be hurting businesses in the state.

Specifically, he mentioned the extraordinary bureaucracy Delta had to go through to get the necessary legal documentation to move a European executive to Atlanta.

Georgia Tech President Bud Peterson said immigration also is a major issue in higher education.

“Fifty percent of the graduate students at Georgia Tech are not U.S. citizens,” Peterson said. “Probably the biggest impediment we have is immigration. Our graduate students want to know they can have the opportunity to stay here (after they graduate).”

Gov. Barbour said it makes no sense for foreign students to receive a great education in the United States and then be forced to leave so they can invest their skills in another country.

“We need labor in the United States. We need more high-skilled labor,” Gov. Barbour said. “Every diploma with an engineering degree should be stapled with a green card. We need them.”

Barbour also said companies also need lower-skilled workers. Mississippi processes $2.7 billion worth of chickens each year.

“If you go to a chicken processing plant in Mississippi, no one speaks English,” Barbour said. “And their biggest complaint is that they want more hours. Those are jobs that Americans won’t do.”

Barbour told a story of how prisoners were given an opportunity to go to work and earn money in the chicken processing plant rather than spend the day locked up. There were no takers. “Prisoners would rather be in prison than in a chicken processing plant,” Barbour said.

Another change that Barbour said is needed is to shift the focus of visas away from families to workers.

“Last year, 17 percent (of the visas) went to work and 83 percent went to family,” Barbour said. “We need about 70 percent to come here for work.”

Barbour, a Republican; and Rendell, a Democrat; hope that there will be enough bipartisan support to get some movement on immigration reform. If a mega bill can’t make it through both houses, perhaps Congress could try to pass portions where there’s consensus.

In Georgia, the host for the Immigration Task Force was the Essential Economy Council, which is co-chaired by Sam Zamarripa and Dan Moody, former state legislators — one a Democrat and one a Republican.

Again, it’s the business community that has the biggest stake in the issue, Zamarripa said. His organization includes representatives of several different industries — poultry, agriculture, restaurants, hotels among others.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. NoGig August 21, 2013 2:16 pm

    “War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.” “1984”, George Orwell

    “We need labor in the United States. We need more high-skilled labor. Every diploma with an engineering degree should be stapled with a green card. We need them.”   Gov. Barbour, Council on Foreign Relations, Aug. 2013
    “Layoffs are part of our growth strategy.” CEO John Chambers, Cisco, Aug. 2013

    There are almost two million unemployed and underemployed US engineers, corporation refuse to hire those past mid-forties and half this nation’s STEM graduates are unable to find STEM work. 

    Our  nation struggles with real unemployment of nearly 15%, falling wages and escalating poverty.  Indeed we have an abundance of citizens with the skills, educaton and intelligence for every available job.   The ONLY shortage we face is plutocrats recognizing their short distance from the guillotine.  
    We do not need nor want expanded  “guest-worker” programs and increased immigration.   And no one should be deceived, every corporate meme from “skilled labor shortage”, “1000s of unfilled jobs”, “best and brightest” through “jobs American won’t do” is a PROVEN FALSEHOOD.    This is about cheap labor, corporate GREED — and corrupt government. 
    It is time that citizens ask hard questions about corporations refusing taxes and hiring of citizens — yet spending billions perverting government to their ends.   And time for our citizens to reclaim government.
    I hope we shall crush… in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
    – Thomas JeffersonReport

  2. inatl August 22, 2013 2:11 pm

    Outsourcing jobs to foreign countries is what leads to unemployment, as well as a mentality of greed that has CEO salaries skyrocketing while the middle class sees downward pressure on wages.  Raise the minimum wage to $14 and it will have a ripple effect benefiting even those making more than $14.  
    But allowing a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants here now will grow the economy.  Capitalism depends on a demographic weighted heavily towards working age individuals.   The trend for those born in the U.S. is to live longer and have less children.  This has resulted in a historic high ratio of retired individuals to working age individuals. 
    The 11 million undocumented immigrants fall more into the working age demographic so they are a key factor in addressing the burden created from supporting more retired individuals. 
    Capitalism itself depends on growth, and growth comes from population growth.  Immigrants spend money here and thus create other jobs.  Immigrants help produce things that get exported thus addressing our deficit.  
    Its no surprise that the Conservative group American Action Network’s recently released study concluded that:  “The Senate’s immigration bill would add nearly 14,000 new jobs on average in each congressional district over the next decade”    http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/Politics/report-immigration-bill-add-14000-jobs-congressional-district/story?id=20007339    
    The thing not to do is what the State of Georgia is doing.   Changing the rules and trying to starve the 11 million out by cutting their access to jobs or felonizing non- criminal acts  (use of an invalid ID to get a job at McDonalds) is inhumane to those who arrived as children or came here when the rules were that as long as you didn’t commit a major crime you wouldn’t have any problems.  
    Need more proof?   President Obama has deported more people than any other president.  The annual deportations are at an all time high and have been since he took office.   Because of Mexico’s improving economy and the hostile atmosphere here, there is a net zero immigration flow from Mexico to the United States for the past several years.      Have things improved for the working class?    Slightly because of the improved economy, but still not close to the rate as the CEO class.    The problem is not immigration.  Its outsourcing of jobs and the growing slice of the pie or % of GNP that the top 2% are taking.Report


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