February 3, 2014 | By Dina Smeltz

Business Leaders on Immigration Reform: The View from the Midwest

By Dina SmeltzJuliana Kerr, and Craig Kafura

In his State of the Union Speech on January 28th, President Obama urged Congress to "heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders and law enforcement" to implement immigration reforms, making the case that immigration will grow the economy and shrink US deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades. Later in the week, the House GOP unveiled their immigration principles  and noted that “Washington’s failure to fix [our immigration laws] is hurting our economy.”

While much has been touted about business leaders' support for immigration reform across the nation, empirical data showing how widespread this view is among business people in the Midwest has been limited. As part of its ongoing work on immigration policy and the Midwestern perspective, the Chicago Council surveyed business leaders in the region to see how their views compared to those of the general public, particularly because opinion in the Midwest has been less supportive than other parts of the nation.

A report released today by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows strong bipartisan support among Midwestern business leaders to pass immigration reforms. The report comes a week after the House GOP unveiled their principles for reforms. Seventy-five percent of republican, 63 percent of democrat and 55 percent of independent Midwest business leaders surveyed favor the Senate bill on comprehensive immigration reform that includes enforcement measures and a path to citizenship.

While majorities across political lines support the outlines of the Senate bill that combines a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants and stricter border control, there was less support for legislation that would tackle individual issues incrementally, which is what the House of Representatives is proposing.

Business leaders value a diversified and qualified labor force working in the United States legally. The survey found that two in three (63%) Midwestern business leaders support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers already in the United States, either immediately or after paying a penalty and waiting a number of years. An even greater number (75%) support a path to some kind of legal status for unauthorized immigrants. 

About half of Midwestern business leaders surveyed currently (38%) or have ever (11%) hired immigrants. Those who hire immigrants say they do so to improve workforce diversity or are unable to find US citizens with qualifications or willingness to take the jobs. The businesses that have not hired immigrants tend to say they don’t have problems finding qualified citizens.

Majorities of Midwestern business leaders also say that immigration at current levels is good for their own companies (68%), the Midwest (60%), the Midwestern economy (60%), their communities (61%), and their own standard of living (63%). Nevertheless, many anticipate negative impacts on American job security (58%), and business leaders are divided on whether immigration at current levels is good or bad for Midwestern job creation (49% each).

The Chicago Council Survey, fielded August 20 to September 10, 2013, included senior management from 175 small businesses, 175 medium businesses, and 150 large businesses that broadly represented the mix of industries located within the 12-state Midwest region. A majority of those surveyed said their companies employed mostly high-skilled workers (71% versus 29% mostly low skilled).

Generous support for this survey was provided by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Chicago Community Trust.

This survey builds on previous Chicago Council Surveys on immigration including a May 2013 survey that found public impressions of immigration flows are exaggerated, and a December 2012 survey that found informed Midwesterners are more likely to support immigration reform.

As policymakers look to move beyond the current impasse on immigration reform, this survey should serve as a resource to help identify business-friendly policies that will increase the Midwest’s economic competitiveness.

About

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.

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