MODESTO, CA – Local entrepreneurs and business and elected leaders today highlighted the need for commonsense immigration reform at a roundtable discussion hosted by FWD.us and the Central Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (CVHCC), calling for legislative solutions that work better for the California economy. Roughly 70 community members attended the event. Speakers included Republican Congressman Jeff Denham (CA-10); Assemblymember Heath Flora; Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen and Congregations Building Community Executive Director Homero Mejia. Also speaking was Alexis Angulo, a DACA recipient who is currently Senior Class President at Central Valley High School and is slated to attend Dartmouth College next year.
The panel addressed the role that immigrants play in small business, agriculture, and other critical industries in the Central Valley. In California’s 10th Congressional District, represented by Republican Congressman Jeff Denham, immigrants make up almost 60% of the agriculture industry, 35% of the construction industry, and 34.2% of the manufacturing industry.
In the discussion, Congressman Denham also underscored the need to pass a bipartisan legislative solution to shield the almost two million Dreamers from deportation. Almost 800,000 Dreamers are currently protected under the DACA program, which allows them to work, study and pay billions of dollars in taxes to the U.S. economy. Eliminating DACA and removing Dreamers from the workforce would cost the United States $433.4 billion in GDP loss over a decade.
Immigration challenges are increasingly sowing uncertainty among Central Valley communities. Local businesses thrive on the talent and labor contributed by immigrants. Immigrant residents in the Modesto area are 20% more likely to be entrepreneurs than native-born residents, and in 2014 paid more than $296 million in state and local taxes.
“Congress must lead in fixing our broken immigration system, with an important part of the plan being a path to legal status for Dreamers who were brought here as children,” said Congressman Denham. “These hardworking young people are already part of our communities, and they deserve a fair and thoughtful solution that will bring certainty to their lives. One way would be through my ENLIST Act, which will allow otherwise qualified Dreamers to earn legal permanent residence through military service.”
“Immigrants are critical contributors to the Modesto business community. In the 10th Congressional district alone, there are 5,812 immigrant entrepreneurs,” said Central Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Christine Schweininger. “We believe that supporting immigrants in our region through business development, federal immigration reform, and other community initiatives is vital to the success of our economy and our district.”
“As a lifelong farmer, I know firsthand that immigrants are the backbone of the Central Valley agriculture industry,” said Assemblymember Heath Flora. “When we are talking about Dreamers, we are talking about undocumented children who have grown up in our communities. We have already invested time and taxpayer dollars educating and raising these kids right here at home. It doesn’t make much fiscal sense to me to send them back to a different country after being trained and educated on our dime. If Dreamers can obey the law and continue to be contributing members of our society, the federal government should work to grant them a legal status through immigration reform.”
“I support Congressman Denham’s efforts to provide a pathway to legal status for Dreamers who are contributing to our community.” said Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen. “There are around 11,000 DACA-eligible individuals in Stanislaus and Merced Counties who grew up here and want to more fully contribute to our economy and our communities. We need to fix our broken immigration system so that law-abiding people can live free from the fear of deportation and earn their way to legal residency and ultimately citizenship.”
“I’ve grown up in Gustine – it’s my home. I’m currently the Senior Class President at Gustine High School, and will attend Dartmouth College next year to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering. I’ve held internships and jobs in our community, have been involved in Future Farmer’s of America, and currently lead the AP Chemistry Club. I will graduate from Gustine High School this coming year with a 4.24 GPA,” said Alexis Angulo, a DACA recipient from Modesto. “The Modesto community would benefit tremendously by passing into law a pathway to legal status for Dreamers like me. Our neighborhoods and our country won’t benefit by breaking up families.”
“As a country, we must give DACA recipients a legal pathway to gain status,” said Homero Mejia, executive director of Congregations Building Community. They have shown their unwavering commitment to their country by working, going to school, or serving in the military. They should be given the chance to gain legal status and fully give back to their communities.”
The panel also discussed the importance of immigrant workers to California’s farming industry; Central Valley is the state’s agriculture hub, and California produces more than half of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts consumed in the United States. Approximately 70% of workers who produce that food are undocumented. Other industries in the Central Valley, such as construction and manufacturing, also rely heavily on the contributions of immigrants. Rep. Denham shared his vision for encouraging other Members of Congress to support legislation which recognizes that the immigration system is broken, and that reform will allow the communities and economies of the Central Valley to become increasingly dynamic centers of production and innovation.