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Can Facts on the Economic Benefits of Immigration Bring Reform in 2017?

A coalition of business groups has stockpiled a cache of facts on immigration and economics to use to move immigration reform legislation next year.
Image: Activists Rally For Immigration Reform In Wake Of Supreme Court Decision
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 28: Mexican immigrant Nieves Ojendiz holds her 4-year old daughter Jane as she attends an immigration reform rally with members and supporters of the New York Immigration Coalition, June 28, 2016 in New York City, New York. Last week the U.S. Supreme Court deadlocked in a 4-4 decision concerning President Barack Obama's immigration plan, which would have protected millions of undocumented immigrants from being deported. Because the Supreme Court was split, a 2015 lower-court ruling invalidating Obama's executive action will stand. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)Drew Angerer / Getty Images

In 2014, immigrant-owned businesses in California generated $20.2 billion in business income. Three-fourths of the Fortune 500 businesses based in Nevada were founded by immigrants or their children. In Texas in 2014, immigrants earned $118.7 billion, and paid $8.7 billion in state taxes and $20.4 billion in federal taxes.

Those are some of the factoids that a coalition of groups, some that lean Republican, unleashed Wednesday in hope of arming members of Congress with data to wield as they cast tough votes in the 2017 immigration debate that is sure to come.

The Partnership for New American Economy, founded by Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch, launched its Reason for Reform campaign with 51 economic reports, one for every state and the District of Columbia. Each is chock full of facts about immigrant contributions to that state’s economy.

The group is anticipating that whatever the election outcome, immigration will be part of the congressional debate with the next administration. GOP nominee Donald Trump has made immigration central to his campaign with promises to remove people in the country illegally, to build a wall on he nation's southern border and to suspend immigration of Muslims and certain countries.

“We’re lifting the curtain and showing close up how immigrants make us a stronger country. Local data and local stories will push the needle on immigration reform in 2017,” said John Feinblatt, chairman of the Partnership for a New Economy.

Other immigration groups and business leaders have tried to make the case for immigration reform and for providing at least legal status for the 11 million living in the country illegally.

But a Trump victory is certain to make those proposals less likely or far harder to achieve given his campaign pledges. Any bill on immigration is certain to have very tough enforcement components.

Related: Experts Say Trump Muslim Ban Would Cripple Immigration System

The coalition said they were holding 62 events for the launch and also releasing a mobile tool through which people could make a video calling for immigration reform to send to their congressional member. That could be used when key votes are being taken.

“This campaign is an important reminder that there is and there always has been a broad coalition that supports immigration reform,” said Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, part of the coalition. “That support is built on the recognition that immigration is a vital asset to our economies and to our communities. We’ve got to do the job of managing that asset well.”

A recent poll by Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution found that six in 10 Americans (61 percent) said immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should be allowed a way to become citizens, providing they meet certain requirements. And a similar share – 58 percent – oppose building a wall. The poll found fewer than four in 10 Americans say the current immigration system in the U.S. is generally working or working with some major problems.

Despite those views, House Republican leadership refused to take up immigration reform - neither a comprehensive bill passed in the Senate or its own measures - amid fierce opposition from conservative members of the House even though several GOP members back immigration reform.

Whether the pressure of the business immigration groups can move the House, which stands a good chance of remaining in Republican hands, will depend greatly on whether it can move individual members who see a risk failing to reform immigration policies as a risk to their district and its constituents.

Those risks go beyond the debate over whether to allow the 11 million people here illegally to have legal status.

In a news conference call, Tom Nassif, president and CEO of the Western Growers Association, said western agriculture is “probably experiencing the most critical labor shortage” since he began as president of the organization in 2002. Members are reporting 20 percent to up to 40 percent shortages, he said.

“People are fallowing their ground. People can’t harvest everything they have to produce. There’s a demand out there that can’t be met. Wages are going up dramatically,” he said.

According to the coalition’s data on Georgia, the number of field crop workers in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina decreased by almost 7,000 in the years 2002 to 2014. Their numbers dropped by about 4,000 in North Carolina and Virginia in those years.

The rise in wages is not adding people to the workforce, he said. Instead, farm workers are going from farmer to farmer seeking a higher wage and farmers are competing with each other for workers.

“Farm workers are actually going home, going back to their home countries, especially Mexico,” he said.

Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau president said plans dealing only with increasing immigration enforcement without increasing guest workers would cost the country $60 billion in agricultural production.

“They would deal a serious blow to agricultural, rural economies and thousands of jobs linked to agriculture,” Duvall said. “… We are a melting pot and turning our back on this tradition is just bad for business … bad for the heart and soul of what made our country the land of opportunity.”