SAN JOSE, California–The next picket line demanding immigration reform may not just be made up of farm workers and health care providers. Engineers, techs and start-up business owners may join in. This “capital of Silicon Valley” has an important stake in easing the burden of acquiring permanent residency for its high-tech work force.
The full San Jose City Council this month urged the US Congress “to swiftly enact comprehensive immigration reform that includes not only a “fair and affordable path” to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, but also reforming the visa system so that families would be allowed to stay and be together during the entire process of acquiring permanent residency.
The council resolution was the result of a recent forum—and a memo it generated–hosted by the South Bay First Thursdays (SBFT), an organization run by volunteers and headed by eight University of California and San Jose State students.
Meeting every first Thursday of the month to take on issues affecting the Asian community, SBFT is funded by Santa Clara County’s largest community-based organization, the Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI).
The most recent forum on immigration reform, featuring with a panel of experts and advocates, led to the instrumental SBFT memo. Citing a Kauffman Foundation study, the memo revealed that immigrants founded 43.9 percent of Silicon Valley start-ups between 2006 and 2012.
Immigrants and innovation
“San Jose, perhaps more than any American city, has an important and timely story to tell about immigration,” read the memo. “As the capital of Silicon Valley, we are one of the most diverse and immigrant-rich cities in the country and one of the most prosperous and innovative.
The city, it said, exemplified the potential for comprehensive immigration reform to be a positive force “in continued progress in America, but future success will only be possible “if we continue to welcome immigrants under a fair, understandable and functional system that allows families to be and stay together.”
According to a University of Southern California study, immigration reform could create as much as $16 billion for California’s economy. Immigrants in Santa Clara County are reported to generate 44 percent of the region’s economic activity.
Another study showed that immigrants were more likely to set up and maintain small businesses, and the Small Business Administration calculated that immigrants who owned businesses generated $67 billion in U.S. business income.
A separate report showed that 64 percent of the science and engineering work force in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties in 2011 were foreign-born.
Recognizing these, SBFT’s memo called for a comprehensive reform of the current green card and H1-B visa systems. The current immigration process takes too long and costs too much for immigrants who may face deportation.
The prospects of a long wait and being separated from family make even high-tech workers vulnerable to exploitation in the labor force. The memo suggested “either immediate permanent residency or visa portability to allow them to create their careers and/or businesses without their citizenship being dictated by one particular company.”
The memo also said that reform must move beyond “costly, enforcement-only policies” that “foster mistrust among immigrant communities,” and provide a process for citizenship for undocumented immigrants who entered the US as young people and grew up in America as Americans. These potential contributors to the community, it said, should be allowed to enter college and then the work force.
District 5 Councilmember Xavier Campos and District 9 Councilmember Don Rocha signed the memo, copies of which will be delivered to the U.S. Congress, the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate, the California Congressional delegation and the President of the US.