August 9, 2008

For employers, immigration has a bottom line

12:00 AM CDT on Saturday, August 9, 2008

The no-match rule, the border fence and enforcement raids – these topics seem to dominate most public discussions on immigration these days.

Too often, though, the discussions generate lots of heat and little light, leaving the public in the dark about the impact of immigration on our economy.

But ask an employer, and a different story emerges, one with real human consequences.

That's the story the Texas Employers for Immigration Reform will be sharing when it has its fourth immigration summit later this month at the Dallas Marriott Las Colinas in Irving.

The Aug. 25 meeting is open to the public.

Speakers will review some of the main concerns of employers, many of whom are small-business owners who feel they're bearing the brunt of federal efforts to curb immigration.

The Social Security Administration's latest no-match rule remains a major concern for many employers, said Bill Hammond, president and CEO of the Texas Association of Business. He said 60 days is not enough time to determine whether an employee's Social Security number matches the name the government has on file.

"Divorce, marriage, transposition of digits – there's too many variables for mistakes," he said.

The program could result in employees who are U.S. citizens also losing their jobs, he said.

"When the workload increases dramatically [for the Social Security Administration], it could be disastrous for us and our economy," he said.

Mr. Hammond remains optimistic, however, that things will improve. Both presidential candidates have expressed support for immigration reform, he said, and the business community is doing a better job of getting organized to bring about pragmatic solutions.

For Eddie Aldrete, a bank executive in San Antonio and a member of the Texas employers coalition, the concern over Social Security numbers is overblown and a distraction.

He's worried over another set of numbers.

"The biggest threats to our economy are baby boomer retirements and our dropping fertility rates," he said.

His presentation on how fewer babies translates into fewer workers draws crowds every time he gives it, and he expects no less at the immigration summit.

"We've become too focused on keeping people out," he said, when we should be doing the reverse.

Almost every industrialized nation is experiencing falling birthrates, including the U.S.

The nation's birth rate now stands at 2.1 children per woman and is expected to fall below replacement level in seven years. Mexico's birth rate is 2.4.

He looks at key U.S. industries and how they are facing unprecedented levels of retirements in the next several years. He compares the looming economic impact to a meteor crash.

"At the end of the day, we should be recruiting people from Mexico to come."

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