Opinion

Opinion | Jeff Bussgang

Massachusetts needs extension of Temporary Protected Status for immigrants

Temporary Protected Status supporters rallied at the State House last week.
Lane Turner/Globe Staff
Temporary Protected Status supporters rallied at the State House last week.

Amazon stated two important requirements in its search for a location for a second headquarters: “The presence and support of a diverse population” and “a stable business climate for growth and innovation.” Amazon makes it clear that successful, game-changing businesses value innovation and diversity, which makes the Trump administration’s failure to extend the Temporary Protected Status for many immigrants so puzzling.

TPS is a lawful immigration status that is granted by the Department of Homeland Security to nationals of countries that experience natural disasters, armed conflict, or other extraordinary conditions that make return unsafe. Despite routine extensions in the past, the Trump administration decided last week not to extend protected status for people from Nicaragua. It is also considering to rescind TPS for hundreds of thousands of immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti in the next six months.

Massachusetts is home to 7,800 TPS holders from these three countries who, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress, contribute more than $645 million to Massachusetts’ annual GDP. Nationally, more than 300,000 people from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti call America home, thanks to TPS. These are law-abiding immigrants who pass criminal background checks every 18 months and are productively working, paying off mortgages, and paying taxes.

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What does this have to do with Amazon? It’s all about the power of innovation and diversity. As the issue of immigration has dominated much of the national conversation in recent months, a popular narrative from the business community has been about the importance of immigrant entrepreneurs to the US economy. Indeed, they are vital to America’s success. However, immigrants who come to America and innovate — starting and leading new concepts and businesses — are not the whole story. Immigrants contribute to American innovation as workers at all levels of the economy, often fueling the growth of ideas birthed by others.

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This is nothing new. In 1914, Henry Ford recruited workers from around the world to build his new Model T. Immigrants from Mexico, Scotland, England, and Lebanon changed the world when they made Ford’s vision come to life. Today, more than 15 percent of Facebook’s employees are immigrants working here on temporary worker visas. America’s power as an innovator has always hinged on the contributions of immigrants, both as founders and as employees fueling growth and scale. In Massachusetts, the majority of TPS holders work 40 hours a week and do some of the state’s most difficult jobs, working at a higher rate than the overall population . Innovation and growth would be stunted here without them.

Companies like Amazon are emphasizing diversity in their innovation work not just because it’s the right social policy, but also because it’s good for business. Businesses with diverse workforces see better outcomes through improved collaboration and a richer set of inputs and ideas. The diversity of immigrants strengthens our workforce and economy across all sectors of the economy.

There is wide agreement that restricting immigration would restrain growth and that steady immigration is key to a diverse and healthy economy. For states like Massachusetts — where innovation and talent are the economy’s central assets — any proposal that impacts immigrants is cause for concern. Expelling more TPS holders will make us less innovative and less diverse, and therefore less successful. As the Commonwealth seeks to woo Amazon — and remain an attractive place to do business for companies already invested here — the decision to leave TPS unextended for 7,800 immigrants already woven into the fabric of the state is a step in the wrong direction. Let’s make sure our leaders in Washington and on Beacon Hill hear that message loud and clear.

Jeff Bussgang is cofounder and chairman of the Alliance for Business Leadership and general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners.