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Posted: December 19, 2012

Immigration: A sensible approach to a complex issue

We need a policy that works for all of us

Kelly Brough

Last month, the Denver Metro Chamber’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to adopt a resolution adopting the Colorado Compact, which is an effort originating from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet to promote a responsible conversation on immigration in Colorado that will foster meaningful federal reform. This adopting resolution expresses our belief that immigration policies must be addressed at the federal level and the policy must be guided by the economic needs of our region and country.

The Chamber’s vision to ensure Colorado’s economic vitality and quality of life served as the foundation for the board as we developed our guiding principles on this matter. Immigration is an issue that impacts Colorado businesses and the state’s economic health—we can’t have each state developing its own solutions, and we must demand our nation develop a policy that works for all of us. The Chamber focused on three areas of economic need for our state:

1. As Colorado’s business leadership, the Chamber views the resolution as presenting a business-centered, sensible path to address this complex issue. The resolution adopted by the board focused on the critical challenge we face in our country and state to develop a skilled and educated workforce that can meet the business demands of today. We know that, in six short years, 67 percent of jobs in Colorado alone will require post-secondary training. Currently, only 48 percent of Colorado’s workforce has a two-year degree or more. We need more skilled workers.

Further, Colorado has a population of undocumented individuals who were brought into the country prior to the age of 16, often through no choice of their own. These young people are educated in our school systems, but without a path to further that education and work legally in this country. We are not only losing an asset we need, but increasing the cost of caring for these kids over the course of their lives. By focusing on our need for an educated workforce, the Chamber’s resolution supports that when these students go on to college or to serve in the military – both which provide valuable and necessary skills we need in our workers, they then be given the opportunity to work in this country as well.

2. The second area the resolution addresses is the need for highly skilled workers, such as scientists and researchers. Many of our industry clusters, such as aerospace, bioscience, energy and health care, rely on these specialized experts. Often, students from other countries attend schools in the United States and are well-educated by us, but given the limited number and the timeframes attached to these work visas, we aren’t able to take advantage of this unique expertise when we need it. The Chamber’s resolution supports more of these types of visas and for longer periods of time based on the needs of business.

3. The third area address by the resolution is the need for key industries in Colorado to be able to access short-term workers. Colorado relies on temporary workers in some of our critical industries, such as ski and agriculture. We believe the needs for these types of visas should be based on the industry needs and would likely fluctuate with the overall strength of the Colorado economy.

For example, when the unemployment rate is higher, we may need fewer work permits or visas of this type, but when the market is tighter, the industries may not need access to as many workers from out of the country. We believe the immigration policy should be established based on the needs of the industries that depend upon this type of workforce to be successful.

We know just saying the word immigration evokes strong emotion. So many of our lives have been touched by the choices our own families made to come to the United States, sometimes generations ago, combined with current concerns about the impact policies could have on our citizens’ ability to find employment as well. We absolutely believe that, if our economic needs and growth guide our approach, we can find the right national policy on immigration and not only allay any fears for our citizens, but actually ensure we all benefit economically.

To see the resolution adopted by the board, please click here. Please contact me with any questions or feedback.
 

Kelly J. Brough is the current president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. She previously served as the chief of staff and deputy chief of staff for Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. She also served as a personnel analyst and a legislative analyst for the City and County of Denver. Kelly has served on a number of boards and commissions, including the Denver Metro Chamber Leadership Foundation board. She has a bachelor's degree in sociology and criminal justice from Montana State University and an MBA from the University of Colorado at Denver.

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