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ICYMI- In Pictures: Where Do Major U.S. Corporations Stand In The Immigration Debate?

Forbes Magazine
In Pictures: Where Do Major U.S. Corporations Stand In The Immigration Debate?
Posted 9/17/2013 @ 11:06AM

While major U.S. companies complain about shortages of skilled workers and restricted access to visas thousands of undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America continue to clandestinely cross unguarded sections of the U.S.’s southern border. The debate over immigration reform, a pressing concern for many U.S. executives, continues to stall in Congress. Last week Steve Womack, a Republican congressman from Arkansas found himself in the spotlight after he responded to a question from a man wearing a t-shirt displaying a Mexican flag. “It does strike me as a bit odd that I would get a question as to why we shouldn’t just automatically make it legal for people who didn’t come here in a legal circumstance, [from a person] with a flag of another country hanging around his neck,” Womack said. “This is just some good old friendly advice. If you want to win friends and influence people on the issues that you are talking about, I would suggest a little different approach in terms of my attire,” he added.

Unlike Womack and several other Republicans in Congress, many major U.S. corporations are taking public stances to welcome immigrants and support immigration reform efforts. After all, the U.S. Citizenship and immigration Services agency has reported that this year, in less than one week companies petitioned for 124,000 H1-B visas for high skilled foreign workers, even though only 85,000 were available. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the U.S. economy is home to tens of thousands of job openings for candidates with advanced and highly specific skills. Industry leaders have argued that current immigration rules prevent them from hiring enough foreign graduates with advanced degrees to meet their needs.

In March 2013 tech industry groups such as the Information Technology Industry Council, The Internet Association, and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group joined together to push for immigration reform. In a letter addressed to “The Honorable Barack Obama” tech company CEOs argued that “the United States has a long history of welcoming talented, hard-working people to our shores [and] immigrant entrepreneurs have gone on to found thousands of companies with household names like eBay, Google, PayPal and Yahoo. These companies provide jobs, drive economic growth and generate tax revenue at all levels of government.” In 2012 Yahoo reported nearly $4.5 billion in revenue.

But, it’s not just tech companies pushing for change. Over the last thirty years the dynamics of the migrant flows, both official and undocumented, that cross the Mexican border have transformed. Previously a source of temporary labor in agriculture in southwest border states, migrant laborers from Mexico and Central America now seek employment in a wide variety of economic sectors in a much more geographically dispersed range of locations within the United States. In addition to farm lobby groups, the construction sector, maintenance companies, and the food services industry all have a stake in pushing for immigration reform. These sectors, after all, are all major employers of immigrant workers. McDonald’s MCD  alone earned $27 billion in 2012. Wendy’s, which recently became the U.S.’s second biggest hamburger seller, reported more than $8 billion in revenues. In The Fast Food Nation McDonald’s and Wendy’s hold clout.

Current regulations lead to disruptions not only for corporations and small businesses but also for immigrant families.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “In 2012, more than 400,000 immigrants were returned to their home countries — more than were deported during any year of George W. Bush’s presidency.”

Tefere Gebre, director of the Orange County Labor Federation, recently argued, “When we have a bill for 11 million immigrants to become full Americans, we should not be, in the middle of this, deporting them.” Many major U.S. fast food companies may be inclined to agree. After all a group of human resources executives from the construction, food services, hospitality, and technology sectors recently joined together to send a letter to “The Honorable John Boehner” arguing in favor of immigration reform.

Reform efforts do face stiff opposition from certain sectors. In addition to the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation, which has spent thousands of dollars for ads attacking reform efforts, a major corporate opponent to immigration reform is the U.S.’s private prison industry.

According to a report from The Associated Press, The Corrections Corporation of America and two rival prison companies have donated $45 million to political lobbying efforts over the last decade.

CCA insists that it is not actively working to influence immigration legislation. According to CCA spokesman Steve Owen, “As a matter of long-standing corporate policy, CCA does not lobby on issues that would determine the basis for an individual’s detention or incarceration.”

While the private prison industry’s executives remain publicly neutral on the topic,several news outlets have reported that behind the scenes money is flowing through their Political Action Committees to politicians who oppose a radical overhaul of the current rules.

Across the U.S., tech industry heavyweights, fast food giants, and private prison companies all have a stake in immigration reform.