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Julio Fuentes: Our current immigration system is not fostering talent & innovation

As the 2016 presidential election nears, all eyes will be on Florida with its 29 electoral votes. Floridians are a unique melting pot with a diverse population and a wide-range of political beliefs.  Without a doubt, one key topic this cycle will be the need for comprehensive immigration reform and to address the 11.5 million undocumented currently living in the United States. With great opportunity brings great responsibility. This election cycle, Floridians will need to take this topic in particular seriously and make sure that each candidate puts forward a reasonable plan to fix our broken immigration system.

Poll after poll, we continue to see that there is a strong bipartisan consensus for immigration reform. FWD.us, a nonprofit advocacy organization, found that in a poll surveying Hispanic voters by ten GOP polling firms that Hispanics believe the current immigration system is broken and strongly in need of reform. Moreover, sixty-nine percent of Hispanics believe that our economy will be improved by immigration reform.

We have already seen the benefits here in Florida – in 2010, new immigrant business owners created $13.3 million in net business income. By creating a pathway to legalization for the undocumented, our state would experience huge economic growth. For example, in just over ten years, it would create $55.3 billion cumulative increase in Gross State Product and $37.8 billion cumulative increase in the earnings of all Floridians. Even more, $3 billion in state and local taxes would be paid by legalized immigrants, putting more money in everyone’s pockets. It’s a clear win-win for all parties involved. On the other hand, if our country pursued a path of mass deportation, our Gross Domestic Product could shrink by 6% and cost $400-600 billion in government spending.

But it isn’t all about the money and economic benefits, although those are many. We cannot forget about the human impact. We are a nation of immigrants and always will be. In fact, June is known as Immigrant Heritage Month to remind us about the vast diversity that built and unites this country. Without many immigrants’ courage and drive to pursue a better life in America, we might not have some of the leading technology companies that we do today. For example, Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin was born in Russia, Dropbox co-founder Arash Ferdowsi is an Iranian-American and Apple co-founder Steve Job’s father came from Syria. Sometimes, it just takes one person’s dream to make a difference and impact the lives Americans across the country.

However, our current immigration system isn’t fostering talent and innovation. How can it when it hasn’t been seriously updated in almost three decades? With any ever growing and changing economy, it is imperative that we fix our broken immigration system to meet the demands of the 21st century economy. We can start by letting the best and the brightest who study in American colleges stay in the country and create jobs here rather than foreign countries. Florida is short of workers, but for every 100 foreign-born STEM graduates, 262 jobs are created for Americans. These policies lead to long-term advancements in addition to the short-term benefits.

Secondly, we can call on Congress to modernize and expand our H-1B visa system. By prioritizing job creation and punishing bad actors who take advantage of the system, we can unlock immigrant’s economic potential. Expanding the high-skilled visa program would create an estimated 18,100 new jobs in Florida by 2020, add around $9 billion to Gross State Product, and increase personal income by more than $8.7 million by 2045. It seems like an economic no brainer to me.

As the President of Florida’s State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, it is my job to look for opportunities to spur the economic advancement of Florida’s Hispanic business community. It is clear that reforming our immigration system would do just that not only in Florida, but across the country. In 2013, our country was close to passing immigration reform, but our national leaders weren’t able to find political consensus. Let’s not let that happen again. Now is the time to ask your Senators and Representatives what it will take for them to support comprehensive immigration reform next year. Floridians can lead the way in demanding for change now. The moral and economic benefits are far too great.


Julio Fuentes is President & CEO of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Florida’s only statewide Economic Development organization dedicated to promoting the economic advancement of Florida’s Hispanic Business community, with a focus on economic and political empowerment.

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