Coalition releases data to demonstrate impact of immigrants, need for policy reform

Author: Ernest Luning - February 21, 2017 - Updated: February 22, 2017

Colorado Business Roundtable President Jeff Wasden (Photo courtesy Jeff Wasden)
Colorado Business Roundtable President Jeff Wasden (Photo courtesy Jeff Wasden)

A national organization of business and civic leaders released troves of data Tuesday to back up its contention that it’s long past time to fix the country’s immigration system.

Research compiled by New American Economy details the foreign-born population, spending power, taxes paid, home ownership and other measures for every congressional district in the country and in 50 metro areas, including Denver. The point, a spokesman for the coalition says, is to highlight the importance and contribution of immigrants to every local economy and in every American community.

“We are trying to counter the perception that immigrants are a drain on communities, on state and federal resources, that they’re not contributing collectively to the good of communities, to the tax base and the work force,” said Jeff Wasden, president of the Colorado Business Roundtable, a member of the NAE coalition.

“Our immigrant community plays a crucial role in Colorado,” he told The Colorado Statesman in an interview. “They pay rent, they purchase houses, they buy goods, they pay taxes, they’re entrepreneurial.”

The data backs him up.

Immigrants account for 342,509 of the Denver metro area’s residents, according to the NAE research, or 12.5 percent of the population. They paid $2.3 billion in taxes and had $6.9 billion in spending power in 2014, they own 63,804 homes and they’re far more likely to be of working age than native-born residents. The metro area also had 20,857 foreign-born entrepreneurs, a classification immigrant residents were slightly more likely to have than native-born residents. On top of all that, 129,926 immigrants were eligible to vote in 2014.

According to the data, with 111,275 immigrant residents, Congressional District 6, spanning Aurora and suburbs to the north and south, just edges out Denver-based Congressional District 1 and its 110,693 immigrant residents. (The 3rd Congressional District, sprawling across the Western Slope and southern Colorado, has the fewest immigrants, at 44,276.)

NAE analyzed data compiled in 2014 by the U.S. Census Bureau. The numbers include both undocumented and legal immigrants.

“These immigrants provide great diversity of thought, diversity of culture, and they’re great resources, and they’re welcome in our country,” Wasden said. “The hype and hysteria has been that they’re criminals and they’re drains and they’re here to do harm. That simply isn’t true.”

He maintains that a solution is at hand if only officials assemble a clear picture of immigrants and their place in communities.

“We are wanting to ensure that any conversation around immigration reform really drills down into the compassionate, fair and just realizations that there is a way to solve this issue,” Wasden said.

Christian Reece, executive director of NAE member Club 20, the West Slope advocacy organization, outlined the elements she believes must align in order to address the problem.

“Our immigration system is broken and we need national policies that protect national security, stimulate the domestic economy and enhance our nation’s image around the world,” Reece said in a statement. “Fixing our immigration problem with researched and thought-out solutions will reduce our federal deficit and increase our gross domestic product. Club 20 supports a bipartisan solution that simplifies the verification process for employers, creates a streamlined process for our agriculture producers to obtain workers when needed and ensures a long-term solution that anticipates the immigration challenges and needs of the future.”

Noting that he had just returned from a trip to Washington to meet with congressional leaders on the matter, Wasden said the NAE coalition is applying pressure on Congress to do its job.

“Immigration reform is an important economic issue, and we need to start demanding Congress take action on this,” he said. “This is an issue that rests in the hands of Congress, and their inability to act is the reason we are speaking up. We need to take it upon ourselves to say our ability to grow, to innovate, to compete is on the backs of hiring the best and brightest talents. Individuals, organizations, business leaders need to step up.”

While the topic might seem hopelessly shrouded in controversy, Wasden sounded an optimistic note recounting visits with members of Congress and their staff.

“They feel there is a window,” he said. “A member of the U.S. Senate said there is an opportunity to do something this year. He said, ‘You guys may feel like there’s nothing happening but all of a sudden, it’ll be a fire drill.’”

“This is a problem that I firmly believe we could spend four months, get this hammered out, come up with a solution, be able to turn the page on this and move on to other pressing issues,” he said. “This is not a challenging issue. This is a leadership issue.”

In addition to the Colorado Business Roundtable and Club 20, the New American Economy counts more than a dozen Colorado business, community and civic organizations among its members, including the Colorado Farm Bureau, Western Dairy Association, Progressive 15, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Competitive Council, Associated Builders and Contractors of the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado Restaurant Association, the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association, Mountain West Credit Union Association, Associated General Contractors, the Asian Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.