Business leaders create a complicated twist in the debate over immigration reform

LatinaLista — Most immigrant advocates and members of the Latino community, who care about immigration reform, have just about given up hope that the issue will ever be tackled by Congress. Yet, Reuters reports today that there is renewed interest in it from former AOL founder Steve Case.

Former AOL founder Steve Case champions immigration reform — for the tech industry.

Unfortunately, it’s not exactly what advocates and activists on the issue were hoping for. Case’s interest can either be seen as applying much needed defibrillator paddles to jumpstart the debate or tasing it to death.

When talking about immigration reform, the issue means two different things to two different audiences. To Case and other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and businesses, reforming immigration means allowing more highly skilled immigrants access to legally live in the United States.

To immigrant advocates and activists, reforming immigration means overhauling the process for applying to come to the US and legally recognizing the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here.

The undocumented aspect of illegal immigration reform doesn’t interest Case. He’s focused on not just what immigrants have contributed to this country but what they have created:

Immigrants founded or cofounded almost half of the 50 top venture-backed companies in the United States, according to a December study by the National Foundation for American Policy.

Of those 50 companies, 23 had at least one immigrant founder, the study found. In addition, 37 of the 50 companies employed at least one immigrant in a key management position such as chief technology officer.

In fairness, even undocumented immigrants have founded businesses in the United States, just not high-tech. Most of the businesses are in landscaping, food and service-oriented industries, and their labor is what has built the office buildings where their highly-skilled counterparts have become the darlings of Silicon Valley.

Case feels he has a good shot at getting Congress to address immigration reform, if he only focuses on his part — and he’s right. No one in Congress, especially Republicans, want to anger business owners but if Case is successful then that leaves the other half of the immigration issue in limbo, if it doesn’t kill it entirely.

While many high-profile business owners have spoken out about immigration reform from Case’s perspective, one successful
business owner has been forced to speak out about immigration reform as it pertains to the undocumented due to Immigration and Customs Enforcement raiding his restaurants and finding undocumented immigrants employed at them. Monty Moran, owner of the Chipotle Mexican Grill chain, is now advocating for immigration reform from the other side of the business spectrum.

In recent months, he (Moran) has met with Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Colorado Democrats, and Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, as well as Republican Reps. Darrell Issa of California and Lamar Smith of Texas. His message: Fix immigration.

“These guys need to know what is going on,” Moran said in his first major interview since the investigation. “Immigration is really messed up.”

While he isn’t prescribing a specific remedy, he has told lawmakers he needs access to a strong, legal workforce. A temporary guest-worker program might work in sectors such as agriculture, but it doesn’t address the needs for qualified labor on a year-round basis, he says…

The chain views immigrants as critical to its success. About half of its 30,000 employees are Latinos, many of them store managers or in other leadership positions.

Some would argue that both sides of the immigration reform issue are such that they should be divided and decided separately but both sides have more in common than most people think. Both sides advocate for immigrant workers to live here legally. The fact that one set of immigrants are high-skilled and the other set low-skilled should not make one set more desirable over the other for a simple reason — all immigrants are doing jobs that either cannot be done by Americans or won’t be done.

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