State business and civic leaders spoke out Thursday at the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce to express statewide support for immigration reform.
Their message? The state both wants and needs reform.
“America’s immigration system has not really changed in almost 50 years and it is astounding to think that we have been functioning in that period of time without a well-oiled system,” said Catherine Glover, president of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “It is nearly impossible for those who want to play by the rules and to obtain visas and work permits. We have watched while entire industries have increasingly become dependant on undocumented workers and we train the world’s top minds in science and technology, engineering and math in our universities and send them back to their own countries to compete against us and that makes no sense.”
The group also released a poll, conducted by Harper Polling, which showed state residents support the bill and will back officials who also support reform. Similar polls were conducted in 28 other states.
Of those that participated in the Tennessee poll, 63% said they strongly or somewhat support the bipartisan immigration reform legislation. Results also show that 76% of those polled said they strongly or somewhat support a bill that includes a tough, but fair pathway to citizenship.
“We believe that the results of the Tennessee poll should be another indication to our elected officials in Washington D.C. that their constituents want and are ready for a real and lasting solution to fix our broken immigration system,” said Yuri Cunza, president of the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “This is not the work of a few, but the work of many organizations in the Nashville area and throughout Tennessee who are working to find a sensible and workable solution to the business issue of immigration reform.”
Moore Hallmark of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said that reform is vital and the current system is not serving the best interests of the economy, businesses, workers or our society as a whole.
“Immigration reform isn’t just a problem to be solved, but is an opportunity to be seized,” said Hallmark. We need to continue to secure and strengthen our borders and put in place temporary worker programs that are based on market needs that include high skill and lesser skilled workers.”
Glover noted the importance of change at the federal level, which she said will in turn provide positive state-level effects.
“There are thousands of employees that are undocumented in Tennessee alone and reforming immigration is important not only federally, but locally in getting legal status for these folks so they can become an operable member of our society,” she said. “Everything that comes from somebody who is a resident and worker of Tennessee is going to help the state in the long run.”
Also represented were leaders from the Tennessee Farm Bureau and the Associated Builders and Contractors.
On Tuesday, a procedural vote to begin formal debate on the ‘Gang of Eight’ immigration bill was approved by the U.S. Senate. Both Tennessee senators supported opening debate on the measure.
The bill, originally crafted by four democrats and four republicans in the Senate, aims to create a pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., would increase caps for visas of high and low-skilled workers and proposes more border security.
If the legislation passes, it would move to the House, where it is expected to receive a harsher welcome. President Barack Obama said in his weekly radio address on Saturday that he hopes to have something to sign “by the end of the summer.”