Local Leaders Continue to Press for Legislative Solution on Immigration

April 12, 2013

By Leslie Wollack

Local officials around the nation look forward to the beneficial impact of immigration reform on their cities and continue to press for a legislative solution. Lawmakers in the Senate are close to presenting a legislative framework for an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws. The proposal, the product of a bipartisan eight member group of Senators, is expected this week.

City officials are anxious to see the Senate and House proposals and many will work hard to ensure that legislation is enacted into law. For years, the nation's broken immigration system has put the burden on local governments. Reform will provide city leaders the support necessary to integrate immigrants into our communities, and allow them to contribute both economically and culturally to our nation.

But local leaders are stepping up to welcome immigrants and find local solutions while waiting for federal action. For Cambridge, Massachusetts, immigration reform will help them retain the talent they need to keep their economy robust. A meeting in the Greater Boston area brought together city councils from Cambridge and Boston as well as business and academic leaders to discuss innovative approaches to keeping talented international students in the region to contribute to the local economy.

The prospect of meaningful immigration reform and how it could affect Milwaukee was the subject of a forum bringing together state, local, and federal officials plus community leaders.

Alderman Joe Davis, Sr. facilitates a lighthearted moment during the Immigration Summit.
Alderman Joe Davis, Sr. facilitates a lighthearted moment during the Immigration Summit.

On March 25th, 2013, the City of Milwaukee hosted their Immigration Summit which was organized by two NLC active members; Alderman Joe Davis, Sr. who presides on the Board of Directors for the NLC and NLC's constituency group NBC-LEO; in addition to newly elected Alderman Jose Perez who presides on the Board of Directors of the NLC's constituency group HELO. After a detailed briefing from the White House Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Jay Williams, Alderman Davis and Perez where motivated to carry the message of Common Sense Immigration Reform to their constituents. Both members attended workshops and brainstorming sessions at the NLC's Congressional Cities Conference in Washington, DC March 9-13, 2013 with organized meeting with all of their Wisconsin Congressional leaders such as US Senator Tammy Baldwin, US Senator Ron Johnson, Congresswoman Gwen Moore, and Congressman Paul Ryan.

The Summit provided panel discussion which featured US Attorney James Santelle of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, immigration attorney Joseph Rivas, and numerous community activists from agencies who represents undocumented workers and those who are here on various VISA restrictions such as refugees and political asylum status.

Alderman Joe Davis, Sr. and Alderman Jose Perez
Alderman Joe Davis, Sr. and Alderman Jose Perez

Like Milwaukee, throughout the Midwest, government, business, academic and community leaders are working together to attract and retain immigrants to supplement the US workforce and increase American productivity. The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a nonpartisan research organization has been drawing attention to the value of new immigrants in the Midwest to increase population, boost innovation and strengthen area businesses.

On Thursday, March 28, over one hundred and fifty entrepreneurs, industry professionals, educators, and community members from the Greater Boston area gathered to tackle one of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' most pressing problems: talent retention. The evening marked a historic Joint Meeting of the Cambridge and Boston City Councils, spearheaded by Cambridge City Councilor and National League of Cities Board Member Leland Cheung and Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson.

As the home of Kendall Square, the most innovative square mile on the globe, the City of Cambridge has never experienced difficulty attracting student talent. A hub of higher education, over 350,000 students are attending one of the Greater Boston area's 76 colleges and universities. However, Cambridge City Councilor Leland Cheung recognizes that the future strength of the City depends not only on the ability to attract talent within its bounds, but to retain students in the area after graduation.
"It is essential that Cambridge, Boston, and the surrounding region take the necessary steps to ensure that recent graduates - the innovators of tomorrow - opt to choose the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as a place where they make their dreams a reality," noted Councilor Cheung in his opening remarks. "To keep graduates local, we need to provide them with the tools that will allow them to live healthy and comfortable lives - internships while in college, an expanded breadth of jobs available after graduation, affordable housing, and appealing lifestyle options."

In a series of panel discussions comprised of industry experts, representatives from local universities, entrepreneurs, current student and recent graduates, speakers echoed the important role that students and recent graduates play in ensuring the economic success of individual cities, the state, and the nation as a whole. Many participants touched on the topic of immigration reform, noting that comprehensive reform legislation should include efforts to allow international students studying in the United States to remain in the nation following graduation.

"Many PhD students that study in the United States are recipients of NIH grants," remarked Councilor Cheung. "To think that the United States would pay for the education of some of the world's most revolutionary thinkers and then refuse to allow them to remain in the country is unfathomable. As we embark on immigration reform measures, we must take great care to ensure that those who come here for school are able to stay here. Here in Cambridge, we recognize that not only are immigrants assets to our economy and culture, but also essential to our ability to grow and thrive in the future."As pointed out by the Partnership for a New American Economy, founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as an effort to highlight the value of immigration to the nation's cities, 40% of Fortune 500 firms were founded by immigrants or their children, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy.

From The Economist

NLC supports a sensible comprehensive solution that balances border security, workplace enforcement and a process that allows undocumented immigrants currently living in the US to earn legalized status. In order to better integrate undocumented immigrants, cities and towns must be given financial and technical assistance to alleviate the local impact of new immigrants.

NLC looks forward to working with Senate and House leaders and Administration to forge an immigration consensus that helps its citizens fully participate and contribute to local economies