Greater Houston Partnership joins businesses in fight for immigration reform

Here’s my first bigger story for Chron that was picked up by their wire service (Pre-editing. Edited copy is Hearsts and I’ll put a link on my clips page).

WASHINGTON, D.C.—President and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership Jeff Moseley stressed the need for comprehensive immigration reform in order to improve the economy and encourage entrepreneurs to start new businesses in the United States.

The House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law Membership held a hearing this morning on the “Role of Immigration in Strengthening America’s Economy” with industry leaders including Rupert Murdoch, CEO of News Corp. and Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg.

They pushed Congress to enact reform that would secure the border, keep foreign students and professionals who study and work in the United States, and hold businesses accountable that don’t verify the legal status of their employees. They also dispelled myths about undocumented workers, like how they commit more crimes and consume more benefits than taxes paid.

Members of Congress drilled Murdoch on the role of FOX News in thwarting pro-immigration efforts and addressed the question of what to do with the existing 12 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S.

As a businessman in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the country, Moseley discussed the vital role immigrants have had in providing necessary services in Houston. More than one million Houstonians are foreign-born, with one in 10 identifying Mexico as their country of origin. Businesses in his group oversee almost 300,000 jobs in the Houston metropolitan area.

“Our board fully endorsed engaging on a comprehensive immigration reform initiative because we would agree that the system is so outdated and broken that there needs to be a wholesale reinvention and reconstruction of the law,” he said.

Under the current law, many immigrants who want to study or work in the United States have to wait decades because of restrictions on the number of immigrants that can enter the country legally every year. According to Moseley’s testimony, the law only allows 5,000 low-skilled laborers and 85,000 high-skilled laborers per year.

“There should be a mechanism so that every year there is an assessment of labor needs in America. And however that assessment is done, there would be opportunities to allow Visas to be issued for skilled and unskilled,” said Moseley. “Embed one number in law, and then you need an act of Congress to amend it, which then means you’re locked into a number that doesn’t work and encourages a breaking of the law because demand is so great.”

Moseley said Houston’s demand for both skilled workers—primarily engineers and medical staff—and unskilled—highway workers, energy and construction—will suffer once Baby Boomers retire and the workforce isn’t replenished.

Both Bloomberg and Moseley pointed out that the birth rate in the U.S. statistically wouldn’t fill vacant job openings when Baby Boomers retire and immigrants are almost twice as likely to start businesses than Americans.

“We think that a law that does not recognize market forces or labor demands is doomed from the beginning,” said Moseley.

The Greater Houston Partnership created a non-profit organization called the “Americans for Immigration Reform” that sponsors immigration research and outreach to lawmakers, the public and media in support of reform.

Mayor Bloomberg also recently formed a coalition of business giants and mayors to push for immigration reform in Congress. This “Partnership on New American Economy” includes leaders from Disney, Hewlett-Packard, Marriott International, Boeing and San Antonio mayor Julian Castro.

The group says it intends to make its point to policymakers by “publishing studies, conducting polls, convening forums and paying for public education campaigns.”

“The economics couldn’t be any clearer. Immigrants pay more taxes than they receive in benefits. We educate them here and tell them to take those jobs and start them in other countries. We need to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants,” he stressed.

Congressman Ted Poe (R-TX) questioned the panel on differentiating “illegal” and “legal” immigrants and pointed out that mothers with illegal status delivered more than 67 percent of the births in the Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital this year.

“If you don’t believe we have a border security problem, I’ll take you to the Texas/Mexico border and you can watch for yourself,” he said.

Earlier this week, the White House Director of Domestic Policy Melody Barnes addressed a conference sponsored by the Hamilton Project and the Brookings Institution on what the Obama Administration aims to do about immigration reform. She said they were “disappointed” that the DREAM act was shot down and hoped Congress could find consensus to pass legislation in the near future.

“Obama is fiercely determined to stop kicking the can down the road and to get this moving,” she said. “I can promise you that President Obama will not rest until those bills are on his desk and he is able to use his pen to sign them into law to bring people out of the shadows to ensure prosperity and the moral character of our nation.”