Bill Blazar is a numbers guy. So is the organization he works for — the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Both say Minnesota needs some form of comprehensive immigration reform to make the numbers work.
Blazar can throw out the figures off the top of his head by now: 7 percent of the state’s population are immigrants, but they make up 9 percent of the workforce, including 20 percent in manufacturing and 14 percent in professional occupations. There are 5,000 Hispanic-owned businesses and 11,000 Asian-owned businesses in Minnesota. From 2000 to 2010, 20 percent of the growth in homeownership in the state came from immigrants.
There is a bottom line to his bottom line: “We really need immigrants as workers to propel the state’s economy.”
Amid the heated rhetoric of broken borders and deportations, the economic realities of a changing workforce and growing an economy are motivating an organization like the Minnesota Chamber to get involved.
Blazar reiterated the chamber’s position on Tuesday, even as hopes for federal comprehensive immigration reform are officially dead for the near future, with House Speaker John Boehner making the pronouncement and President Obama saying he will use his executive powers to address issues piecemeal.
To Blazar, the best hope may be after the November midterm elections and before a new Congress is sworn in. To the chamber, comprehensive reform would include streamlining the process in which the 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the country would either gain a path to citizenship or a path to permanency; it would update the number of visas permitted each year to reflect a growing economy and a need for skilled foreign workers.
“Without a functioning and efficient immigration system, we aren’t going to have the workers, the entrepreneurs or the consumers or the bridge to the world’s economy that we need for our state’s economy to not only change, but also to grow,” Blazar said.