Urging Congress to overhaul the immigration system or risk losing in global workforce competition, Philadelphia business and community leaders rallied Wednesday on Independence Mall, releasing fresh state-by-state data on the economic impact of foreign-born newcomers and launching a campaign they call Reason for Reform.
Rob Wonderling, president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, called on elected officials to "enact policies and reforms that will support immigration as critical [to] innovation, company formation, and job growth" in the region.
The areas of the country that will "lead in the 21st century must intentionally attract diverse people," said Peter Gonzales, president of the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, a nonprofit immigrant services organization in Philadelphia.
Cosponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber and the national Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan coalition of mayors and corporate executives who argued for "streamlining, modernizing, and rationalizing" immigration policy, the campaign began with similar events Wednesday in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, its organizers said.
"Immigrants are extremely important to the American economy, and this issue transcends political party, gender, and economic status," Carolina DiGiorgio, the Montgomery County commerce director, said at the rally, citing her own family's immigrant saga as "proof of the American dream."
The state-by-state data, compiled by the partnership, was derived mostly from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey for 2014.
Nationally, the report said, immigrant households earned $1.25 trillion in 2014 and paid $223.5 billion in federal taxes, $104.6 billion in state and local levies, and $123.7 billion in Social Security and $32.9 billion in Medicare payments.
"Immigrant-led households" in New Jersey earned $74.2 billion and paid $19.5 billion in federal, state, and local taxes, according to the report. In Pennsylvania, the figures were $25.8 billion in income and $7.1 billion in taxes.
The report did not go into detail about the social-service costs associated with immigrants, but it cited studies in Arizona and Florida, which found that immigrant tax contributions "far eclipse the money spent on the law enforcement, education, and health-care resources they use."
Proponents of stricter limits on immigration dispute those findings.
The report said the foreign-born population of Pennsylvania more than doubled from 1990 to 2014 and now constituted 6.4 percent of the total.
"Pennsylvania today is home to more than 810,000 immigrants," it said. "These new Americans serve as everything from software developers to housepainters, making them a vital part of the state's overall economy."
Neighboring New Jersey has more than two million foreign-born residents. As a percentage of the total state population, only California and New York exceed New Jersey's 21.7 percent foreign-born.
In both Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Asian immigrants accounted for more than half of all immigrant income and tax contributions, followed by Latino, sub-Saharan, and Middle Eastern and North African immigrants.
Peter Gonzales, president of the Welcoming Center, said that immigrants have offset population declines in Philadelphia. The report states that without the addition of immigrants, Pennsylvania's population would have declined by almost 78,000 people between 2010 and 2014.