My family immigrated to the United States from Cape Town, South Africa, when I was just a year old, so I understand on a very personal level why people are willing to leave their family, friends and all that they know to start a new life here.
From the get-go, we considered ourselves Americans and strove to realize the American dream. My father became a chiropractor. I went to law school and in 2002, founded my own practice in San Francisco, then moved to the Sacramento area to open an office in Rancho Cordova. My family did so not just to better our own lives, but to contribute to our country.
Over my 15 years as an immigration lawyer, I have seen the vital economic contributions that thousands of immigrants make to California – and to the country – up close. Because our native-born population is aging and the global economy is becoming ever more competitive, I understand what we lose when we shut out skilled workers and entrepreneurs. This is why we urgently need to move beyond the charged political rhetoric and pass meaningful immigration reform.
Immigrant contributions to California act much like compound interest: Individuals who start businesses and hire workers not only create direct employment but also produce a multiplier effect throughout the economy as employees buy homes, dine at restaurants, take vacations and invest in greater numbers.
According to New American Economy, a bipartisan group that studies the economic impacts of immigration, there are 7,358 immigrant entrepreneurs in California’s 7th Congressional District. This includes my firm. Foreign-born residents in our district wield $3.2 billion in spending power and contributed $1.1 billion in state and local taxes in 2014. This supports public services such as schools and law enforcement. Highly skilled workers create the same knock-on effects. The engineer who designs a bridge not only enables legions of construction jobs to open up but also makes a major contribution to the economic vitality of a community that depends on this bridge to transport people and goods.
At my firm, we work with these talented, eager individuals every day. Our clients include:
- a doctor who is conducting cutting-edge research on allergy and immunology disorders;
- an economist who has worked on projects funded by U.S. Department of Energy;
- an expert in plant genetics and genomics who is working on ensuring food security;
- a researcher who is providing new advances in the field of embryology, assisted reproductive technologies and infertility treatment.
There’s really no such thing as an economy that has too many entrepreneurs or qualified workers, especially an economy that is not performing to its true potential. Our nation’s workforce is aging. In our congressional district, less than half of the native-born population is of working age, between 25 and 64. In contrast, 73 percent of immigrants fall in that range.
America is lucky to be the world’s top destination for immigrants. If we want to stay competitive in the global economy, we should be welcoming these people, not pushing them away.
A dynamic economy thrives on the ideas of the best and brightest. It’s no accident that California has the nation’s largest share of foreign-born residents and some of America’s most dynamic industry hubs, including Silicon Valley and Hollywood. Popular and trusted brands such as Google, Qualcomm, eBay, SanDisk and AMD landed in California thanks to the entrepreneurial vision of immigrants.
These individuals are helping pave the way for tomorrow’s economic prosperity: Between 2007 and 2011, immigrants founded nearly half of new businesses in California.
Immigration reform isn’t only about doing the right thing; it is also a way to act pragmatically with consideration for the economic future of all Californians, immigrant and native-born alike. We can and should be aiming for better.