July 26, 2011 STATEMENT — LIRS Statement for Senate Hearing on the Economic Imperative for Enacting Immigration Reform

 Press Contact: Fabio Lomelino, Assistant Director for Media Relations
410-230-2721, lirspress@lirs.org

Statement of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Hearing, “The Economic Imperative for Enacting Immigration Reform”

BALTIMORE, July 26, 2011—Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), the national organization established by Lutheran churches in the United States to serve uprooted people, has consistently called on Congress and the Administration to work together to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation. “Through our work with refugees and migrants all across the country, LIRS has seen how communities have been revitalized and transformed by the contributions of newcomers,” stated Linda Hartke, LIRS President and CEO. “Communities, families, and the U.S. economy will continue to suffer until the federal government overhauls the U.S. immigration system in a way that strikes a fair balance between America’s commitment to continue welcoming migrants and the need to enforce U.S. laws.”

As Congress continues to fail to advance a major immigration overhaul, state legislatures keep experimenting with immigration policy-making, creating a complex patchwork of immigration laws. Many of the proposals are near sighted, face constitutional challenges, and are having a devastating impact on communities, families and the economy.

Earlier this year Georgia passed HB 87, an immigration law that requires businesses and government agencies to use E-Verify, an online federal database, to verify the employment eligibility of new workers. Since the law went into effect on July 1, it has had a significant impact on the workforce of the state’s largest industry – agriculture. Last year the agricultural industry employed 13% of Georgia workers and generated $69 billion in business.[i] With farms now facing over 11,000 labor vacancies, Georgia sought to replace these displaced migrant workers with unemployed probationers. Initial reports showed that as many as two-thirds of the probationers walked off the job or did not come back for a second day in the fields.[ii] The Georgia Agribusiness Council has since warned that the state risks losing up to $1 billion if the crops are not harvested and has called on Congress to get involved.[iii]

Agriculture is not the only industry affected by the passage of harmful state legislation. After Arizona passed legislation in 2007 requiring the use of E-Verify, business owners reported reduced spending in restaurants, groceries, and retail stores as a result of the exodus of an estimated 100,000 state residents.[iv] In addition, the Arizona Hotel & Lodging Association reported that after the state passed the controversial SB 1070 legislation last year, the tourism and convention industry saw a decrease in sales as groups booked conventions in other states out of fear that some of the attendees would not attend or to protest the new law.[v]

In contrast to the states that have pursued harsh, enforcement-only legislation, other local leaders have recognized the important role that migrants play in the U.S. economy. For example, Laurent F. Gilbert, Mayor of Lewiston, Maine, has credited migrants with revitalizing the city’s economy. “Somali and other foreign-born residents of Lewiston have opened businesses, bought products and paid the millions of dollars in taxes that have helped rekindle the city’s population growth and revitalize its economy.”[vi] In Uvalda, Georgia, Mayor Paul Bridges joined a lawsuit to sue the state of Georgia over the new state immigration law. In an interview with CNN, he said, “Simply put, the Georgia law will strip my town of its economic livelihood and deny those living here of their right to drive with their friends, host members of their family or engage in other daily activities without government intrusion.”[vii]

To fix the broken U.S. immigration system, Congress and the Administration must pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Several recent reports prove that such an approach would also be beneficial for the U.S. economy. For example, an Immigration Policy Center report shows that if Congress passes immigration reform that includes a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants, the law would add $1.5 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product over the next ten years while a “deportation only” approach would result in a $2.6 trillion loss for the U.S. economy.[viii] Similarly, a CATO Institute report concluded that comprehensive immigration reform with a legalization plan would increase the gross domestic product by 1.26 percent, or $180 billion.[ix]

LIRS remains steadfastly committed to advocating for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a pathway to lawful permanent residency for undocumented immigrants, reduces the U.S. government reliance on jailing migrants, prevents the unnecessary separation of families, and protects refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable migrants.

LIRS welcomes refugees and migrants on behalf of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States.

If you have questions about this statement, please contact Eric B. Sigmon, Director for Advocacy, at 202/626-7943 or via email at esigmon@lirs.org.

The LIRS statement in support of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011 can be found here: http://bit.ly/nK9tyM.

The LIRS statement on the ethical imperative for reform of the U.S. immigration system can be found here: http://bit.ly/hrRtzv.

The LIRS statement in response to punitive state immigration bills can be found here: http://bit.ly/dL6EIU.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America social policy resolution on immigration can be found here: http://bit.ly/4sziLX.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod immigration statement can be found here: http://bit.ly/kIeoCN.

[i] “A Hard Row to Hoe: Georgia’s Immigration Bill Will Hit Farmers Where it Hurts,” The Economist, June 16, 2011 <http://www.economist.com/node/18836420 >

[ii] Epstein, Reid J., “Georgia Immigrant Crackdown Backfires,” Politico, June 22, 2011, <http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0611/57551.html>

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Jarman, Max and Eugene Scott, “Impact of Immigrants’ Exodus Debated,” Arizona Republic, June 1, 2010 <http://www.azcentral.com/community/scottsdale/articles/2010/05/31/20100531arizona-immigration-law-immigrants-leaving.html>

[v] Groff, Garin, “Costly SB 1070 Brought Businesses to the Table,” East Valley Tribune, April 21, 2011 <http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/arizona/immigration/article_b506db80-6c53-11e0-8d84-001cc4c03286.html >

[vi] Gilbert, Laurent F., “MAINE COMPASS: Immigrants Have Vital Role in Maine Economy,” Morning Sentinel, May 14, 2011 <http://www.onlinesentinel.com/opinion/columnists/immigrants-have-vital-role-in-maine-economy_2011-05-13.html >

[vii] Bridges, Paul W., “Why I’m Suing Georgia Over Immigration Law,” CNN Opinion, June 20, 2011 <http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/06/19/bridges.georgia.immigration/index.html>

[viii] Hinojosa-Ojeda, Dr. Raul, “The Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform,” Immigration Policy Center, January 11, 2010 <http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/economic-benefits-immigration-reform >

[ix] Dixon, Peter B. and Maureen T. Rimmer, “Restriction or Legalization? Measuring the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform,” The Cato Institute, August 13, 2009  <http://www.cato.org/pubs/tpa/tpa-040.pdf >