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To Create Jobs, Fix Immigration

Right under the noses of pro-business Republicans and Democrats is an anti-business immigration system that impedes innovation and puts family farmers out of business.
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Right under the noses of pro-business Republicans and Democrats is an anti-business immigration system that impedes innovation and puts family farmers out of business.

Let me be clear: Far too many of our fellow Americans are out of work. Our economy cannot grow fast enough to ease the pain and suffering of our neighbors.

Job creation depends on our ability to recruit, train and retain the highest-skilled and hardest-working people from around the world. Two fixes to our immigration system -- one legislative, one administrative -- can expedite the creation of jobs in America.

While our education and training system is working overtime to fill a demand for hard-to-find workers in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields, a recent report by The Partnership for a New American Economy and The Partnership for New York City found jobs in STEM fields are growing three times faster than jobs in rest of the economy.

But, while American businesses will need an estimated 800,000 workers with advanced science and engineering degrees in 2018, they will find only 550,000 American graduates with that type of training.

Approximately 400,000 foreign students come to America every year to learn from the best -- and about 60 percent will train in technology and science fields. You don't need a STEM degree to realize it would be a good idea to offer green cards to STEM graduates who want to stay here and contribute.

In a rare show of bipartisan bonhomie, Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) recently joined together to file the Startup 2.0 Act.

The legislation would create two new types of visas, one for international students who obtain a U.S. degree in the STEM fields and another that offers permanent residence to immigrants who establish successful U.S.-based companies that create American jobs. Legislatively speaking, this is one of several pro-business immigration initiatives in the congressional pipeline.

But, with Congress being the La Brea Tar Pit of legislation these days, the Obama administration needs to take action.

And, realizing our economy needs the skilled farm worker as much as it needs the skilled engineer, what about the agriculture sector?

Production of high-value agricultural products such as fresh fruits, vegetables and milk is a big business job creator in the U.S., at least for now. Economists estimate that every skilled farm worker on America's farms sustains two to three jobs in the farm-dependent economy.

Here too, the fix ought to be legislative.

Instead, we have congressional inaction, while the Obama administration is spending billions and billions of taxpayer dollars on a scattershot immigration enforcement approach that is destabilizing our skilled farm labor force, threatening to essentially outsource crop production to China because of the scarcity of skilled farmhands in America.

The biggest culprit is the I-9 audit.

Across America, farmers are subject to (seemingly) random audits of employee records by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) even though they have properly completed employment authorization paperwork for their workforce. To the best of the employer's knowledge, the documents presented at time of hiring are legitimate; many times, skilled and trusted workers have worked on their farm for years, if not decades.

Keep in mind, experts across the board estimate that anywhere between 50 and 70 percent of our nation's agricultural workforce are unauthorized immigrants.

Given the high number of unauthorized workers on most farms, ICE routinely audits family farmers who are doing everything the right way but are themselves struggling with a broken immigration system. As a result, every year, hundreds of agricultural employers are forced to fire thousands of farm workers who have become more family than staff.

To no one's surprise, these workers -- who have families of their own -- are not self-deporting from the country. Rather, because they are skilled workers with few legal protections, they are pushed into the hands of unscrupulous contractors who pay less, provide worse job conditions, and serve to undermine the original family farmer.

Even the Obama administration realizes problems lie ahead.

A May 2012 study by the US Department of Agriculture found that "a large reduction in the number of unauthorized workers in all sectors of the U.S. economy would lead to a longrun reduction in output and exports in both agriculture and the broader economy."

In order to stave off disaster, the administration needs to prioritize I-9 audits on truly bad employers and use its executive authority to create an emergency legal status for America's skilled agriculture workforce.

This is not our mothers' formula for job creation. The world is growing too fast and the economy is changing too quickly for us to rely on old ways of thinking.

Keeping the best minds here means launching companies that employ American workers.
And having family farms that can focus on putting food on our tables, not paperwork through the wringer, means that tomato you eat is grown in America.

Without these changes, your iPhone may not be the only Apple made in China.