Survey Finds Bipartisan Support for Immigration Reform among Midwestern Business Leaders

February 3, 2014

February 3, 2014
– A report (PDF) released today by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs shows bipartisan support among Midwestern business leaders to pass immigration reform. The report comes days after President Obama urged Congress to move on reforms in his State of the Union address and the House GOP unveiled their immigration principles.

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 a path to citizenship combined with stricter border control. While majorities across political lines support the outlines of the Senate bill, there is less support for legislation that would tackle individual issues incrementally.

“As Congress negotiates immigration policy reforms, The Chicago Council survey found that bills that package enforcement measures with a path to citizenship will garner more support,” said Dina Smeltz, senior fellow for public opinion and foreign policy at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Business leaders value a diversified and qualified labor force working legally in the United States. 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.

“Previous surveys suggest that the more people know the facts about immigration the more likely they are to support reform,” said Rachel Bronson, vice president of studies at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “Today’s report is no different.”

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, despite numerous reports from across the political spectrum finding that immigrants don’t drive down wages or take Americans’ jobs, 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 in the 12-state Midwest region. A majority of those surveyed said their companies employed mostly high-skilled workers (71% versus 29% mostly low-skilled).

“I often hear critics of immigration reform dismiss the views of businesses for being profit-seeking and looking for cheaper labor,” said Juliana Kerr, who directs The Chicago Council’s immigration initiative, “but businesses are the engines of economic growth and vitality, and in the post-industrial Midwest economy, we really can’t afford to lose them. We should be mindful of their labor force needs when considering public policies.”

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 reports on immigration including US Economic Competitiveness at Risk: A Midwest Call to Action on Immigration Reform, 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.