Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly should feel confident leading the nation to provide pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the Build Back Better agenda that is pending on Capitol Hill. As the founder of a statewide organization representing nearly 3,500 locally owned businesses, I know that legalization and citizenship will strengthen Arizona’s economy, be good for small businesses and entrepreneurship, and help address our critical labor shortage.
Arizona was once a battleground of anti-immigrant policies, but that time is thankfully behind us. Today, legalization and citizenship for Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, farmworkers, and essential workers has shifted in the public opinion realm. In a recent bipartisan poll, sponsored by the American Business Immigration Coalition, only 10% of U.S. voters, including just 17% of conservative voters, believed that the priority for fixing our immigration system should be deportations. Here in Arizona, four out of five voters support pathways to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the Build Back Better plan.
Arizona’s economy is fueled by small businesses, but we are facing a critical labor shortage that is the result of a perfect storm, including significantly changing career interests, Covid recovery, and years of anti-immigration policies. This has caused an extreme shortage of workers in the trades, hospitality, farms, and transportation, among other areas, all of which are essential for a strong Arizona economy. Our state currently has 181,000 open jobs that we simply don’t have the workers to fill. Providing permanent status for undocumented workers is not a panacea for solving this problem, but it’s an urgently needed piece of the puzzle.
According to one analysis, legalization and citizenship will increase economic activity nationwide by $121 billion annually, including adding $31 billion per year to federal, state, and local tax revenues. About a dozen states will particularly benefit; Arizona’s economy will increase by $3 billion per year.
New businesses are the drivers of job growth and we are fortunate that Arizona is home to more than 70,000 immigrant entrepreneurs. The household income of our state’s undocumented immigrants is $5.1 billion per year. They pay $556.5 million in taxes and have a spending power of $4.5 billion annually. The bottom line is that Arizona is stronger when we are inclusive and welcoming to all people.
Kimber Lanning is founder of Local First Arizona, a statewide organization with nearly 3,500 business members working to strengthen Arizona’s economy and a member of the American Business Immigration Coalition.