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Business leaders back federal immigration reform

June 14, 2013
Tennessean
Hamlet Fort

A group of Tennessee business leaders lent their support Thursday for federal legislation aimed at comprehensive immigration reform. The bill is currently pending in the U.S. Senate.

“It is definitively time to reform a flawed immigration system,” said Catherine Glover, president of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Reform will establish a tough, but fair, process for undocumented immigrants to earn their path to citizenship, bring them out of the shadows and into the mainstream of our economy.”

Representatives from the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. of Tennessee, the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and others all spoke briefly in support of the bill, which passed a crucial procedural step in the Senate on Tuesday.

The Senate voted 84-15 on Tuesday to move forward into the bill’s debate stage.

Yuri Cunza, president of the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, presented new findings from a Harper Polling survey conducted across 29 states. Of those polled, over 75 percent support sweeping immigration reform that would include several conditions, including requiring prospective citizens to learn English, pay taxes and pass a criminal background check.

“Immigration reform is vital to fostering a competitive work force,” said Moore Hallmark, executive director of the Southeastern Region of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “We need a system that will welcome the world’s best talent, hardest workers and biggest dreamers.”

“Immigration reform isn’t just a problem to be solved, but an opportunity to be seized,” Hallmark said.

The poll’s results show increased involvement in immigration issues from Tennessee’s local communities, according to Eben Cathey of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. Cathey believes immigration reform will be the boost that Tennessee, and the nation, needs.

“The numbers say getting undocumented immigrants on the books will be a boon to our local economy,” he said. “We’re a new destination state; immigrants are coming here to start businesses. I think that makes us more attractive.”

Glover believes the time is now for immigration reform because of a generational transition.

“Timing is everything,” she said in an interview. “The baby boomers are retiring, Generations X, Y,and Z are coming up right now. We’ve got a gap, and an opportunity. We also have a very willing and ready legislature, ready to take this on.”

The bill will be debated early this summer, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he wants to vote by July 4.

President Obama publicly supported the bill on Tuesday, and Tennessee business leaders hope their senators will do the same.

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