N.J. coalition: We need immigration reform

TRENTON – Cut through the politics of immigration reform by emphasizing the morality and economics of immigration reform.

That was the message presented Tuesday by a broad coalition of N.J. interests: business, religious, high-tech, hands-on labor.

“From a chamber perspective it is all about growth,” said Bob Prunetti, CEO and president of the MidJersey Chamber of Commerce. “Immigration reform is a growth policy.”

How much growth? The small-business coalition N.J. Main Street Alliance estimates that national immigration reform could mean growth in the Garden State next year of more than 19,000 jobs and over $1.8 billion in increased economic activity.

Members of the N.J. organizations that are pushing for action in Washington, D.C. – where New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez introduced a comprehensive reform package in 2010 – said today they believe the votes exist in the House for passage whenever a bill makes it to the floor.

At stake in New Jersey are jobs in pharma and other high-tech industries as well as seasonal labor that agriculture depends upon.

“We need programs that are predictable and provide a means of shoring up the seasonal work force,’’ said Tom Beaver of the N.J. Farm Bureau.

The immigration reform, which among other things would provide a path to citizenship, also would provide employers with help for their bottom line.

In New Jersey farm industries generate over $1 billion in gross sales, 80 percent of which comes from labor-intensive specialty crops.

Not only do the advocates want blue-collar laborers to come here with the confidence they can stay here, they want white-collar entrepreneurs and graduate students to come here from other countries and become inspired to stay as well.

“We see this place as being a real magnet for the world’s talent and we don’t’ want barriers put up by (the lack of an) immigration policy,” says Katherine Kish, who spearheads the non-profit Einstein’s Alley initiative to promote New Jersey’s high-tech businesses.

They are not opposed to an enforcement mechanism, and want to confront what they say is the misconception that immigrants are taking “American’’ jobs.

The United States was built by immigrants, said Ryan Lilienthal of the American Jewish Committee-N.J., and they embody the American spirit: “the qualities of risk-taking, pioneering, innovation, the frontier spirit. It is what makes the U.S. so compelling as a place and an idea.’’

The advocates said President Obama has begun speaking about immigration reform again, has indicated some willingness to be flexible, but at the very least he has put it on the national agenda for next year.

“When we look at the world economy,’’ Prunetti said, “and at those nations that have decreasing trends in their population numbers, there also is a decreasing trend in their economic policies.

“In the U.S.,” he said, “we have to replace our work force with more working-age people,” and the reality is “those jobs can’t easily be filled with American workers right now.’’



N.J. coalition: We need immigration reform