Pittsburgh-With the shutdown crisis resolved for the time being, local labor, business and immigration groups are ramping up pressure on local members of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Last week, President Obama declared he wants action on immigration reform “this year” and a diverse group of local supporters, including Councilman Bill Peduto, are working together to make this timeline a reality.
“Labor and business organizations have come together because immigration reform is critical to our economy and our local communities,” said Héctor Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU. “Pittsburgh has seen an incredible, growing movement for immigration reform that has brought together immigrants, nuns, janitors, steelworkers, business leaders, teachers, and local elected officials, all united in the belief that everyone deserves a shot at the American dream.”
Figueroa joined business and community leaders at CMU last week for a business and labor forum on immigration reform. Moderated by KDKA’s Kimberly Gill, the forum focused on the need for immigration in the Pittsburgh metro region. As Pittsburgh’s economy has picked up steam, the immigrant population has also increased, bringing to life new opportunities and challenges for the region.
“The Latino population in the Pittsburgh region has increased 72 percent over the last ten years. If we move forward with immigration reform, we have a real opportunity to grow the workforce and reach new communities,” said Adriana Dobrzycka of Vibrant Pittsburgh.
The Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce and 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) support the Senate immigration bill pass this summer and are united in the fight to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the House this year.
“In decades past, much of the strength of the Pittsburgh region was built on immigration. Now, as we look at vacant positions that are going unfilled and more positions opening as our workforce retires in the coming years, we need more people and we need to put them to work,” said Laura Fisher, senior vice president, Allegheny Conference on Community Development.
“We are committed to preparing residents for the jobs that are going to be in high demand, and we’re partnering with labor to get the word out that sensible immigration reform is needed for Pittsburgh and other regions who want to increase and maintain economic vitality,” added Fisher.
While thousands of Pittsburgh jobs go unfilled due to a lack of skilled applicants, Professor Brian K. Kovak of Carnegie Mellon University noted at the forum that current barriers to citizenship hurt all workers.
“Migrant workers coming here legally have to wait an absurdly long time to get a visa,” said Kovak.
According to Regional Economic Models, Inc., immigration reform that provides a pathway to earned citizenship and expands high-skilled and other temporary worker programs would together boost Pennsylvania’s economic output by $1.4 billion and create approximately 15,780 new jobs in 2014. By 2045, the boost to Pennsylvania’s economic output would be around $9.3 billion, in 2012 dollars.
Commonsense immigration reform could increase the state and local taxes paid by immigrants in Pennsylvania by approximately $64 million in 2010, according to one study.
“Pittsburgh needs immigration reform for our economy to move forward. We’re calling on our local members of Congress to move forward on a comprehensive bill this year,” said City Councilman and Democratic candidate for mayor, Bill Peduto.
Through phone banks, lobby visits, rallies and online campaigns, local immigration supporters will amplify their call for a comprehensive overhaul this year.
“The business and labor community are counting on Congressmen Tim Murphy and Keith Rothfus to step up and demand that Speaker Boehner bring comprehensive immigration reform to the floor. In the aftermath of the shutdown debacle, voters are ready for the House to demonstrate that they can get things done,” said Sam Williamson, 32BJ SEIU Western PA Director.