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Immigration is an Economic and Workforce Issue

by Debby Dale Mason | Jan 28, 2011
Earlier this week, Chamber President & CEO Ralph Schulz was a guest on a state immigration legislation panel sponsored by the Nashville Business Journal. Other panelists were TN Rep. Joe Carr; SmartSpace President Floyd Shechter; immigration attorney Greg Siskind; and TN Sen. Jim Tracy.

The panel’s goal was to examine the impact of legislation that will potentially be introduced during this session of the Tennessee General Assembly. The proposed legislation is related to immigration, particularly the issue of undocumented workers. Similar laws enacted in Arizona have attracted headlines nationwide.

Immigration policy is determined at the federal level. However, because the federal government is not currently addressing comprehensive immigration reform, the issue has become a larger focus at the state and local levels. The state’s concern is a legitimate one, because at its most basic level, immigration is an economic and workforce issue.

The Chamber has always opposed illegal immigration. We advocate for comprehensive federal immigration reform that addresses the presence of current undocumented workers and the need for immigrant workers in the workforce of the future.

The Chamber’s new five-year Partnership 2020 economic development strategy focuses on creating a globally competitive workforce by developing talent through education and training; by retaining qualified individuals, and by attracting new talent to the state. Our ability to do that is impacted by state laws that establish rules about worker eligibility.

As predicted in the Chamber’s recently updated regional workforce study, Middle Tennessee faces worker shortages of nearly 24,000 by 2019. Tennessee, along with the nation, is a rapidly aging society. Currently, about two-thirds of the Nashville area’s population is of working age. This is projected to decline to 59 percent by 2019 as Baby Boomers retire in large numbers. There will no longer be extra reserves of working-age population around the country as the whole U.S. ages.

If our region’s economic growth is to continue at levels comparable to the recent past, the region will need substantial in-migration to meet its workforce needs. Immigration is not a threat to employment; it is a necessary ingredient for economic growth. The U.S. grew strong by attracting an influx of immigrants to populate this nation and its workforce.

Any discussion surrounding comprehensive immigration reform must take into account the realities of the American workforce and the capacity of government to implement required fiscal and programmatic processes related to illegal immigration.

We encourage responsible debate that is focused on facts and recognizes the role of Nashville’s and Tennessee’s immigrant population as a vital contributor to our economy, identity and global status.
Category: Legislative Issues