Pro-business groups seek to revive federal immigration reform

A pro-business group founded by former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is trying to revive talk of federal immigration reform, centering on immigrant-heavy areas including Nevada.

At a press conference hosted by the New American Economy in Carson City, representatives from the Nevada Farm Bureau and Reno Chamber of Commerce pled their case for the need of business-friendly immigration reform.

Held in conjunction with the launch of a state-by-state map listing immigration demographics and economic impact broken down by congressional district, business representatives said that Congress needs to seriously reconsider immigration reform like Nevada, where nearly 20 percent of the population is foreign born.

“We really don’t have a sweet middle that gets us enough votes to be able to pass meaningful reform,” Farm bureau executive Doug Busselman said. “And to get where we need to go in this country, that’s what we need to have.”

Data collected by the group is based on results from the American Community Survey, and goes beyond demographic numbers to include the economic impact of immigrant workers.

In Las Vegas, for example, immigrants make up about 22 percent of the population, with more than 26,000 “entrepreneurs” or self-employed workers residing in the city. It has the ninth-largest share of foreign-born populace among major American cities.

The state’s four congressional districts all rank highly nationally in terms of immigrant population, ranging from Las Vegas-centric District 1 held by Democratic Rep. Dina Titus (30.6 percent, 41st highest in the country) to the rural District 2 held by Republican Rep. Mark Amodei (12.5%, 161st highest).

Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen’s District 4 is made up of 15.7 percent immigrants, the 131st highest of the 435 congressional districts, while fellow Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen’s District 3’s foreign born-population is 17.9 percent, good for 115th highest in the country.

Reno Chamber lobbyist Tray Abney said that all of the state’s congressional delegation were receptive to supporting immigration reform, but said more buy-in was needed on a federal level.

“Really, the state and local governments are having to clean up the mess from the federal government because the federal government is not doing it’s job,” he said. “It’s not going to be fixed in Carson City.

Busselman said that reform was badly needed in the federal H-2A temporary visa program for seasonal agricultural work. He said that agricultural businesses like onion and garlic producers in rural Yerrington and dairy producers in Fallon were hard pressed to find native-born native workers to fill their needs.

Passing any sort of immigration reform package opening up visas for foreign-born workers might be a challenge under President Donald Trump, who promised during the campaign to roll back or cap the number of H1-B visas for highly skilled foreign workers.

Abney said he wasn’t sure how to reconcile protectionist stances taken by Trump with the needs of business community.

“I don’t know what the right answer is or what the right number is, but I’m not sure that limiting the most highly skilled, the most highly paid, the people that contribute the most to our economy is the first problem that needs to be addressed,” he said.

The group is also planning to run ads inside of taxis and digitally promoting immigration reform in Las Vegas, according to Politico. It also lists Las Vegas restaurant owner Irma Aguirre, a prominent Trump supporter, as a backer of the group.

Abney stressed that the group was supporting immigration reform in general terms, and wanted to stay above political fights on amnesty and border security to focus on effective policies.

“We’re not ideological about this,” he said. “Let’s figure it out. Here’s the situation that exists on the ground today, you need a lot of these workers here that are doing the things that make society run.”