Home Fairfield Breaking out of the shadow economy

Breaking out of the shadow economy


It was hardly a secret in a town notorious for its leaks: After high minority voter turnout — particularly among the Hispanic population — lifted President Barack Obama to a second term and thwarted Republicans seeking to reclaim the Senate, immigration was going to top both Democrat and Republican agendas this year.

Pundits publicly predicted a drawn-out battle akin to the fiscal cliff debate, while administration officials and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle privately feared the same.

So imagine our surprise when a bipartisan group of eight senators, including a former GOP presidential candidate, a likely future GOP presidential candidate, and two of the three top-ranking Senate Democrats, unveiled a plan to overhaul the U.S. immigration system — a plan that was promptly endorsed by the president himself.

For the first time in a long time, it seems everyone is reading off the same page. (And for what it’s worth, we urge the House leadership to hop on the bandwagon.)

How has this come about? What is propelling the Obama administration and the Senate to an accord where Obama’s predecessor failed?

The economy, of course.

Last week, Obama mentioned the “economy” eight times in his 25-minute speech in Las Vegas on immigration policy. For those of you keeping track at home, that is exactly seven more times than he mentioned the word “economy” in his 15-minute inaugural address.

In a joint statement released by Sens. Chuck Schumer, John McCain, Dick Durbin, Lindsey Graham, Robert Menendez, Marco Rubio, Michael Bennet and Jeff Flake, the “Gang of Eight” says one of four basic pillars of any legislation should be to “reform our immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families.”

Business Roundtable — in a rare instance of the country’s business lobby playing catch-up to Congress — released a Jan. 29 statement that it would form a committee to address comprehensive immigration reform.

“Business Roundtable CEOs, who lead major companies that operate in every sector of the economy, believe that our country needs a sensible, modern immigration system that enables talent from around the world to contribute to the domestic workforce,” said Motorola Solutions CEO and Chairman Greg Brown, who will lead the committee.

Few areas stand to gain more from an overhaul of the U.S. immigration system than Fairfield County.

Here, with a flagging job market, immigrants and the children of immigrants are the key to workforce development and economic growth, both today and in the future.

Consider the numbers: In Stamford, for example, about 20,000 people hold bachelor’s degrees, according to data compiled by the Fairfield County Information Exchange (which is an initiative of the Business Council of Fairfield County).

Of those, 24 percent were born in Connecticut, 43 percent were born in another state, and more than 32 percent were born outside the U.S.

As multinational companies based in Fairfield County or having significant operations in the region continue to expand, and as the foreign-born population grows, look for the latter trend to continue.

In Fairfield County, the Hispanic and Latino populations represented 17 percent of the total population in 2010, up from 12 percent in 2000.

The combined Hispanic and Latino populations of Danbury, Norwalk and Stamford increased 71 percent, 60 percent and 49 percent, respectively, from 2000 to 2010.

More than 20 percent of the Fairfield County population is foreign-born, according to data compiled by the Information Exchange and generated by the U.S. Census Bureau.

From 2006 to 2010, more than one in three babies delivered in Fairfield County were born to foreign-born parents.

Fairfield County gives meaning to the term “melting pot.” For the businesses already in the region and those we’re seeking to attract, it is vital the immigration proposals unveiled by the “Gang of Eight” and reinforced by the Obama administration become a reality.

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