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Immigration advocates push reform bill
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Immigration advocates push reform bill

Advocates of immigration reform — including local leaders of the American Jewish Committee — are praising a new study that predicts the state will experience “significant economic growth” as the result of pending legislation.

The immigration reform legislation — passed by the Senate but stalled in the House of Representatives — grants 11 million undocumented immigrants legal status and a path to citizenship, while also allocating $30 billion to strengthen the United States border with Mexico.

Speaking in a conference call to reporters and pro-immigration leaders Aug. 30, Rep. Rush Holt (D-Dist. 12) cited the local economic impact of the bill according to a study by the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

The bill, said Holt, “will mean $50 billion in cumulative increase of gross New Jersey product over 10 years, $30 billion cumulative increase in the earnings of all NJ residents over 10 years, 7,645 additional jobs annually, and $25 billion cumulative additional earnings of immigrants in New Jersey over the next decade.

“They will pay an additional $2.6 billion in state and local taxes over that time period,” Holt added.

Two representatives of the AJC’s NJ area, assistant director Amy Hollander and Princeton immigration lawyer Ryan Lilienthal, joined the call, which also included Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), cochair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. It was sponsored by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.

Hollander, AJC staff liaison to its Immigration Task Force, cited her organization’s partnership with business, labor, and trade associations in backing reforms.

“We will continue to work with our partners in immigration and hope that Congressman Holt’s prediction is true — that immigration reform is not only possible, it is likely to happen this year,” she said.

Lilienthal, cochair of the AJC task force, said that under the pending legislation, “the individuals in the undocumented population, when given the opportunity to come out of the shadows and legalize their status, are going to be able to open bank accounts, establish lives here, establish credit, purchasing homes, fueling the economy, and having settled lives in this country. Right now that is not happening.”

In June, a bipartisan group of 68 senators — 14 of them Republicans — voted for the measure, which has yet to come up for a vote in the House, where members of the Republican majority are deeply divided on the issue.

NJ Jewish News asked Holt how reform advocates plan to win over opponents.

“The political cost for opposing this has now overtaken the advantages,” he said. “Those who have been recalcitrant and obstinate in facing up to the immigration opportunity and embracing it are feeling the pressure and reading the tea leaves. That is why it has moved in the Senate and, I predict, it will move in the House. I predict that Speaker John Boehner will not first find out whether he has a majority of Republican votes before he brings something to the floor.”

Grijalva said his district in southern Arizona is directly affected by the illegal entry of thousands of Latinos from Mexico.

“There have been over 5,000 deaths in the desert in the last 10 years of people trying desperately to cross,” he said. “It is a humanitarian crisis of huge proportions, and we cannot continue to tolerate that broken system that allows it to happen.”

Lilienthal said there are somewhere between 400,000 and 550,000 undocumented immigrants currently living in New Jersey, and few of them are able to enter the United States legally.

“Where undocumented workers are working there is not a way to come in legally,” said Lilienthal. “These industries even in a bad economy rely on immigrant labor. This bill fixes that problem, and that is very important because many of those who end up staying here might have come and left,” said the attorney.

Among NJ municipalities, “some are embracing of immigrants and some are less embracing,” Lilienthal added. “It’s like a checkerboard. We are left with dysfunctional governing. Passing the law is smart for the United States.”

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