Shannon K. O'Neil

Latin America's Moment

O'Neil analyzes developments in Latin America and U.S. relations in the region.

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Silicon Valley Takes on Immigration Reform

by Shannon K. O'Neil
April 12, 2013

A girl holds up a banner while people take part in a rally to demand that Congress fix the broken immigration system at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, April 6, 2013 (Eduardo Munoz/Courtesy Reuters). A girl holds up a banner while people take part in a rally to demand that Congress fix the broken immigration system at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey, April 6, 2013 (Eduardo Munoz/Courtesy Reuters).

As the U.S. Congress looks to embark on immigration reform soon, many things have changed since the last try in 2007. One of the most important is the role of business—which is increasingly vocal and organized. The most recent announcement comes from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has just launched FWD.us along with backers Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, and Ruchi Sanghvi of Dropbox, to advocate for immigration reform and, in particular, for more high skilled immigrants. They join AOL founder Steve Case in the public debate, as well as Laurene Powell Jobs, who engineered the website “The Dream is Now,” that lets dreamers (undocumented youth) tell their own poignant stories.

More traditional business too has come to the table, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which describes itself as representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses) and the AFL-CIO (the largest U.S. federation of labor organization) reaching an agreement on the number and make up of new guest worker visas—an issue that many say sunk the 2007 legislation.

Yet as these private sector leaders jump into the fray, they shouldn’t focus only on high tech, high skilled, internet-savvy workers. As baby boomers retire and our economy picks back up, we will need workers of all skills (and especially at the ends—both high and low). According to a study by Barry Bluestone and Mark Melnik of Northeastern University, the sixty million Generation Xers will have a difficult time filling the positions boomers are leaving behind, leaving approximately five million open jobs by 2018—jobs that are likely to be filled by immigrants.

Even with the focus on workers, comprehensive immigration reform should not throw out family reunification as a goal and central category. Strong families are vital for happy, productive workers, benefiting businesses. And social networks for those newly arrived are important for the communities in which they will live and for the United States more broadly.

With the last major immigration overhaul now almost thirty years old, it is time for another round, to help fix the problems in today’s system and help prepare for tomorrow’s needs. And for this, no single category or individual reform will do.

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