LITTLE SILVER, NJ - “Immigration is one of a those issues crying out for fresh perspectives. It is one of those issues where emotion and not thought drives the discussion. And when emotion drives the discussion it is usually not a productive conversation.” Red Band Regional (RBR) Superintendent Dr. Louis Moore told his students upon introducing special guest speaker Jeremy Robbins, the Executive Director of the New American Economy, to help bring that discussion to a place where it could be more productive.
Robbins’ visit was prompted by the schools’ Student Advisory Board’s desire to bring clarity and understanding to their fellow students on this challenging topic. The New American Economy is bipartisan coalition of more than 500 CEOs and mayors making a case for immigration reform. Robbins graduated from Yale Law School and advised New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on immigration issues.
According to Robbins, immigration brings significant benefits to the United States. More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants and 76 percent of U.S. patents have been awarded to immigrants. In New York City, 48 percent of all small businesses are owned by immigrants. This should not be surprising, Mr. Robbins argued. “What do you think it takes to leave all you know to come to a new country?” That drive and determination is what leads immigrants to achieve and excel.
The perception that immigrants are an economic burden to this country, or even in the Red Bank vicinity, is easy to dispel, Robbins said. Immigrants pay taxes and contribute to Social Security. They also spend money, which empowers our economy. The New American Economy has a created a website called www.maptheimpact.org. where one can enter any town to see immigrants’ effect on their local economy. District 4, where Red Bank and many of our area’s immigrants are located, indicated a total of 85,000 immigrants composing 11% of the population who have paid over $900,000 in taxes and have over $2.4 billion in spending power (stats from 2014).
Other misleading narratives have been coursing the public domain causing great misconceptions such as the emphasis on gangs and high crime related to immigrant populations. Gangs do exist, and Mr. Robbins argued that we should do everything in our power to deport dangerous criminals from our country. But on the whole, the correlation between crime and immigrants is negligible or even declines as immigrants usually improve and revitalize local communities.
With a lively discussion that ensued, students asked how we can discourage illegal immigrants from coming to this country and still preserve the benefits of legal immigration. Part of the answer, Robbins argued, was put forth in the 2013 bi-partisan immigration law that was stalled in Congress. In that law, a 13-year process was laid out for setting a path for citizenship. Additionally, it incentivized employers to only hire legal residents. Currently, there is a bi-partisan effort to force a vote to pass immigration reform, which has not been seriously attempted since the 2013 failure. To achieve this, Robbins encouraged that students become engaged by contacting their representatives in Congress to support this effort and to continue to become educated on the facts about immigration in America.