Maija McManus

BBJ Viewpoint: Facts, compassion must guide Mass. immigrant debate

Maija McManus
BBJ Viewpoint: Facts, compassion must guide Mass. immigrant debate

Jim McManus

For decades, immigration controversies roiling politics and law enforcement in the United States, Massachusetts and Boston have raised, but not answered, important economic and moral questions. One thing all agree on: We benefit from the energy and optimism of immigrants.

The New American Economy (NAE), a national bipartisan group of 500 mayors and business leaders funded initially by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, supports immigration reforms that help spur job growth. The group highlights with facts, not rhetoric, the damage being done by short-sighted policies that deter people who are immigrants from coming to the United States.

Recently, NAE blasted the Drumpf Administration’s decision to rescind the Immigrant Entrepreneur Rule (IER), which would allow foreign-born business owners to settle in the United States for an initial period of two and a half years. Their firms must have achieved demonstrable success, specifically by raising at least $500,000 in additional funding, generating that much in annual business revenue, or creating at least five full-time American jobs.

In June, more than 100 leading U.S. economists wrote an open letter opposing the end of IER, pointing out the folly of eliminating a job-creating avenue for people who are immigrants to enter the country. If EIR were fully implemented, they wrote, it would create at 429,000 jobs — many in the STEM fields. "The combined direct and indirect effects of the IER on the U.S. economy would create anywhere from $5.8 billion to $18.5 billion in economic activity over the next 10 years,” they wrote.

In Massachusetts, the more than 1.1 million immigrants pay $12 billion in taxes. More than 134,000 employees work at immigrant-owned firms here, according to NAE. These entrepreneurs are concentrated in the STEM and health care fields.

“America should be rolling out the red carpet for immigrant entrepreneurs, not sending them away to our competitors,” said John Feinblatt, president of NAE.

Alongside the economic consequences of encouraging immigration, religious leaders around the world and locally have spoken out forcefully about the dire plight of many refugees and immigrants. More than 65 million people around the world have been forced from their homes by war, violence, drought, climate change and extreme poverty.

They should be treated with respect and welcomed by people in more fortunate circumstances. Some emigrants desire a new home, in another country, where the prospects for safety and opportunity offer hope for them and their families. Others seek safety while waiting for conditions to improve back home.

In Boston, religious leaders are banding together to help those under threat from constantly changing — but always threatening — rules. Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston and Combined Jewish Philanthropies are partnering to support legal aid for immigrant families. This partnership has made it possible for Catholic Charities’ Immigration Legal Clinic to double the size of its legal team, take on an additional 170 immigration cases, and conduct 52 Know Your Rights presentations for another 1,136 individuals.

These presentations help people understand how the legal system works, regardless of their immigration status. Attendance at these seminars has been through the roof, as the current political climate has struck fear even in the hearts of those who have migrated to these shores legally.

Modern Boston was built by people born in foreign countries, and continues to benefit from contributions by first-, second- and third-generation arrivals. Facts and compassion should guide debate over the economic and moral issues arising from the plight of people who are immigrants.

Jim McManus is principal partner of Slowey/McManus Communications and a member of the board of trustees of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.