Business Insider

Survey of Treasure Valley executives shows no consensus on immigration reform

Some Treasure Valley business leaders have strong opinions about what kind of immigration reforms would most benefit the Treasure Valley. But as a group, respondents to Business Insider’s latest quarterly survey are lukewarm when assessing how urgently local businesses need reforms in federal policy dealing with undocumented workers. And they are tepid about whether a new policy would enhance the local workforce.

Just one respondent says it is “highly important” to allow more low-skilled workers to immigrate to the Treasure Valley. When it comes to skilled workers, two respondents say it is “highly important.”

Only one of 11 respondents acknowledges having employed an undocumented worker.

In 2013, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan immigration reform bill to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. The deal included provisions for border improvements, fast-tracked permanent visa options for high-skilled immigrants and better work-visa options for low-skilled workers, including farm laborers. The bill died in the House.

Meanwhile, a court has stalled President Barack Obama’s executive order last year to shield nearly 5 million immigrants from deportation.

Survey respondents are nearly split on whether the Valley has enough U.S. citizens applying for positions requiring science, technology, engineering and math skills.

Zelda Geyer-Sylvia, president and CEO of Blue Cross of Idaho, says a government policy providing undocumented workers a path to citizenship would give Valley companies firmer legal ground to stand on.

“A comprehensive immigration plan that includes a path to citizenship will allow employers the peace of mind needed to hire new employees and possibly grow their workforce,” she says.

Immigration reform could help combat the Valley’s lack of ethnic diversity, which hurts when local companies try to recruit high-skill workers and businesses, says Karen Ann Meyer, a consultant and serial technology entrepreneur.

“We lose jobs to offshore workers all the time,” Meyer says. “I know of a few companies who could not find the software engineers they needed locally, so they are using developers in other countries to build their applications.”

Darrel Anderson, president and CEO of Idaho Power, says current immigration policy hinders immigrants’ ability to find work in the Valley, which in turn hinders the local workforce.

“An efficient guest worker program will provide an environment where immigrant workers will be available for growing Treasure Valley business, which in turn will increase capital formation and create new tax revenues for important state and local government services,” Anderson says.

Politics clouds immigration discussions, said Rob Perez, president and CEO of Northwest Bank. The nation needs an objective review of the costs and benefits of providing paths of citizenship to undocumented immigrants, which isn’t what we’re getting from either Democrats or Republicans, he says.

“The battle for the ever-growing immigrant votes will play a large role in a political decision as opposed to making the right decision,” Perez says.