EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Border business leaders are voicing strong support for an immigration reform bill recently unveiled by President Joe Biden.
The bill features an eight-year plan to citizenship for 11 million undocumented migrants, including about 1 million brought into the country as children. Many of the latter are already in a federal program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which grants renewable two-year stays and work permits for some brought to the U.S. prior to age 16.
“It’s time to move forward with immigration reform. This can has been kicked down the road too many years — decades,” said Jon Barela, CEO of Borderplex Alliance, a regional business advocacy organization. He said the group and its partners support immigration laws that “will promote business interests, job creation and recognizes the need to offer a pathway to citizenship to DACA-eligible young people.”
Business groups have supported immigration reform since the early 2000s, with industries like hospitality, construction and janitorial often depending at least to some degree on immigrant labor. But with industrial processes modernizing and qualified health worker shortages, business leaders more than ever are going to bat for the younger, educated migrant.
“These individuals far outpace natives in terms of employment, reduced criminal activity and in terms of productivity and having a college education,” Barela said. “We need these individuals — these talented young people — to continue to contribute to the vibrancy and growth of our local regional and national economy,” Barela told Border Report.
He said skilled or highly trainable workers will be in demand as the economy recovers from the COVID-19-induced recession. “We will need these individuals in health care and other fields where sometimes we don’t have sufficient labor,” Barela said.
While the endorsement of the business community is welcome, some “Dreamers,” as DACA recipients and hopefuls call themselves, are taking a wait-and-see approach.
“We’re still in limbo in the sense (that) we don’t really see definitive progress,” said Viridiana Villa, a DACA recipient and graphic design instructor at El Paso Community College. “I can see there’s a little bit more hope and a more positive perception (of us), but realistically speaking, we’re still in the same situation.”
Villa said she sees a difficult path ahead for immigration reform, even with immigrant-friendly Democrats in the White House and with a slight majority in both houses of Congress.
“We can’t celebrate until something really happens. And when it happens, we need to make sure it’s what we have been asking for and not just a temporary solution; not permits but a path to citizenship,” Villa said.
“Dreamers” have been disappointed in the past, with bills to legalize their stay in the United States failing to pass Congress since 2001. But advocates are hopeful that, even if comprehensive immigration reform stalls this year, DACA will finally become a law.
“It’s wonderful that the business community is coming out in support of comprehensive immigration reform. For us, this is a win-win situation,” said Ray Mancera, national parliamentarian for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
The group believes U.S. immigration policy has long favored Europeans over Latin Americans for many decades. “We believe it has always been discriminatory,” Mancera said. “We’re glad Congress is looking at reforms because immigrants contribute tremendously to the economy. They are hard workers and I guarantee you they’re not coming for handouts.”
Advocates concede in private that comprehensive immigration reform will be a challenge, but they believe some components will become law in 2021. DACA would be a top priority, followed by guarantees for qualified asylum seekers and possibly temporary work permits for people who agree to go back home when they expire.
“DACA has always been a no-brainer. I’m perplexed as to why (lawmakers) keep playing games with these young people. They’re so enthusiastic about America, they love this country and many have no memory of any other country,” Mancera said. “We must stop torturing them with the threat of deportation every year, as they came here through no will of their own. This is an issue that should’ve been addressed many years ago.”
He said there’s also a need to institute a temporary or guest worker program because migrants will continue to flee bad economic and crime situations at home to come work in the United States.
“They’re coming because they have no choice. They’re leaving their land, passing through very dangerous ground until they get here. We need programs that allow those migrants to come here legally maybe two to three years, send money back home to their loved ones and then go back,” Macera said.
Barela, of the Borderplex Alliance, said border businesspeople are looking forward to either comprehensive immigration reform or incremental reforms.
“We can no longer ignore this problem. It’s going to take a multilateral, multifaceted approach to deal with this in a humane and compressive way,” Barela said. “It is my hope and I’m optimistic that we’re going to see something come out of this Congress by the end of the year.”