PORTLAND, Ore. — A panel of agricultural, business, political and social leaders called for comprehensive immigration reform Wednesday, saying the current system is broken, hurts families and hampers economic growth in Oregon.
The gathering was part of a coordinated national campaign, called “Reason for Reform,” that kicked off in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The effort is the work of a bi-partisan group called the Partnership for a New American Economy.
The group released reports that detail the economic impact of foreign-born residents, including data on businesses started by immigrants, the number of people they employ, their tax payments, spending power and the types of jobs they fill in Oregon and elsewhere.
Speakers in Portland included state Rep. Tina Kotek, who is Speaker of the House of Representatives. She said immigrants make “an enormous and growing contribution to our culture and economy” and the current immigration system is disjointed and chaotic.
State Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, said immigrants and refugees in Oregon are not here to “game the system.”
“They are here to work and work hard,” he said. “Without their labor, agricultural areas all over the U.S would be in serious distress.”
Immigrants’ contribution to Oregon agriculture was a highlight of the state report.
Leigh Greschwill, whose family owns F&B Farms and Nursery of Woodburn, said a lack of labor is the top issue for agriculture, and the immigration problem is weakening Oregon’s economic health.
She said some members of the Oregon Association of Nurseries could grow their businesses 20 percent, but due to a lack of workers will grow only 2 percent because “we can’t get off our butts and get this done.”
Ryan Deckert, president of the Oregon Business Association, called immigration reform a moral and economic “no-brainer.”
Among the report’s Oregon highlights:
• Nearly 390,000 Oregon residents were born outside the U.S., and 14,599 people immigrated to Oregon between 2010 and 2014.
• Immigrants make up 10 percent of the state’s population but 13 percent of the overall workforce and an estimated 56 percent of the workers who hand-harvest crops. About 73 percent of immigrants are working age, between 25 and 64, compared with 51 percent of the native-born population.
• In 2014, undocumented immigrants earned an estimated $1.6 billion in wages and paid $61 million in state and local taxes and $104 million in federal taxes.
The report’s authors acknowledged that immigration issues cut both ways.
“Of course, there are many compelling reasons that having a large undocumented population is a problem for a society,” the report said. “It undermines law and order, permits a shadow economy that is far harder to regulate, and is simply unfair to the millions of people who have come here legally.”
But the problem of undocumented immigration has “gone largely unaddressed” for 30 years, they added, while undocumented workers have come to fill an integral role in many industries.
Other speakers in Portland included state Rep. John Davis, a Republican from Wilsonville; and Andrea Williams, executive director of CAUSA. Jeff Stone, executive director of the Oregon Association of Nurseries, served as moderator.