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White House will make economic argument for immigration reform

July 31, 2013|By Brian Bennett
  • President Obama hopes to show that opening up the immigration system could be a boon to the economy.
President Obama hopes to show that opening up the immigration system could… (Evan Vucci / Associated…)

WASHINGTON – Seeking to pressure the House to act on immigration reform, White House officials are launching a state-by-state campaign to convince voters that opening up the immigration system could be a boon to local businesses.

On Thursday, the White House plans to release economic projections of how enacting the Senate immigration bill could boost state economies, create new jobs, increase tax revenue and bolster flagging home prices.

“There is no question that common-sense immigration reform is just the right thing to do. But it is also very clear from a number of sources that it is the economically smart thing to do as well,” Gene Sperling, the director of the White House National Economic Council, said during a call with reporters on Wednesday.

The states that could feel the biggest impact are California, Texas and Florida, according to data released last month by Regional Economic Models Inc. and highlighted by Sperling. In California, according to the projections,  the legislation could create more than 77,000 jobs in the first year and increase the state’s economic output by $7.3 billion.

The Senate immigration bill, passed with bipartisan support last month, would allow most of the estimated 11 million immigrants in the country unlawfully to apply for legal status and receive work permits after passing a background check and paying a fine. The bill also would increase the number of foreign workers allowed to enter the country for farm jobs, low-skilled work and high-tech jobs.

But the legislation hit a roadblock in the House, where the Republican leadership said it would not bring the Senate bill to a vote and instead will consider a series of small-scale immigration bills in the fall.

Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, said President Obama would work over the next few months to persuade GOP lawmakers to take up reform and prod voters to pressure their representatives to act.

“We are going to do both,” Earnest said. “We are going to use all the tools in toolbox we have to show this is in the interest of the country.”

Some Republicans are pushing back against the argument that immigration overhaul will bring an economic boost.

In a two-page strategy memo sent to Republicans this week, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said the GOP should ignore arguments from business executives calling for more foreign workers.

“The last thing low-skilled native and immigrant workers already here should have to deal with is wage-depressing competition from newly arriving workers,” Sessions wrote. “It’s most important that the party perform better among working-class and younger voters concerned about economic opportunity and upward mobility.”

There are some efforts to reach across the aisle in the House. On Thursday, Jeff Denham (R-Atwater) will hold a briefing with Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Panorama City) to make the economic case for Democrats and Republicans to compromise on immigration in the House. The two will be joined by an economist from Regional Economic Models Inc. and a representative from the Western Growers Assn.

“This is not something to kick down the road. If we are going to get our fiscal house in order, immigration has to be a part of it,” Denham said in a phone interview. His Central Valley district includes a number of large farms and dairies.

“It’s a chorus of ‘Let’s get this done,’” Cardenas said. He added that he had heard from owners of car dealerships, furniture shops and electronics stores in his district who think immigration reform would make it easier for them to hire workers and do business.

“It will be a shame on this country and horrible for our economy if we don’t get this right once and for all,” Cardenas said.

Twitter: @ByBrianBennett

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