Local leaders in business, law, and activism gathered Tuesday at TripAdvisor headquarters in Needham to discuss the intersection of business and immigration policy in the Greater Boston area.
The Supporting Our Global Workforce forum featured speeches from US Representative Joe Kennedy III; Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition; and Tom O’Brien, co-chair of the Massachusetts Business Immigration Coalition. It was hosted by the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber.
“What’s happening at the federal level [are] very harmful policies and attacks to the immigrant and refugee workforce,” Millona said. “If immigrants and refugees are attacked and are threatened, the businesses are suffering.”
Each speaker highlighted the significance of immigrants in Massachusetts, where they make up 18 percent of the workforce and have founded 58 percent of Fortune 500 companies based in the state.
“At this moment, employers are really challenged to hire. They’re challenged to hire all across the board, but our foreign-born talent adds so much to the diversity — to the opportunities,” said Greg Reibman, president of the Newton-Needham Regional Chamber.
Kennedy stressed that if the national immigration debate was based on facts and not caught up in such a heated political climate, it might be a different story.
“If you look at the impact of what immigration reform and a humane immigration policy mean for our country, the economic case is open and shut,” Kennedy said.
Millona emphasized the fear and uncertainty that immigrant communities in the region face because of changes in federal policy. H-1B visa denial rates have skyrocketed, and the impending removal of the Temporary Protected Status policy could impact over 12,000 Massachusetts residents.
MIRA and other advocacy groups are preparing for the Trump administration’s promise to deny visa and green card applications to any working-class family that falls under the new definition of a “public charge” to go into effect next month.
“It’s very important to connect that what’s happening, it’s really impacting the businesses,” Millona said.
Kennedy called on leaders to advocate loudly and generate political pressure when it comes to improving immigration policy.
“It’s not enough just to say ‘Hey, we support X, Y, and Z.’ Talk to your suppliers, talk to your customers, talk to your employees. Push this forward,” Kennedy said.
The morning concluded with a panel of business owners from Newton and Needham, who each stressed the importance of immigrants at their respective establishments and detailed the barriers those workers face.
“Businesses need to step up and play an active role and talk about this as an economic issue,” Reibman said.
The chamber planned the forum in Needham for a reason, according to Reibman.
“We think it’s really important to stand up and say these are important issues, not just to the urban core but to businesses out in the suburbs,” he said.
While city centers such as downtown Boston may typically be home to much of the discourse and activism surrounding immigration, tight-knit suburban communities tend to have a more direct path toward changing policy, according to Millona.
“There is a lot that can be done to integrate [immigrants] with policies that promote economic integration and inclusion,” she said.
The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and the Massachusetts Business Immigration Coalition both support the Work and Family Mobility Act, a bill that would allow all qualified state residents to apply for driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status. They also support the Safe Communities Act, which would put numerous protections from federal immigration enforcement in place statewide.
The groups also pushed for the formation of a coalition that Governor Charlie Baker signed into the budget this summer, which aims to find paths to licensing and deploying foreign-trained health professionals for those with inadequate health care.
“Communities that know the benefit of immigration and the contribution immigrants make need to raise their voices and need to keep pushing,” Kennedy said.