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New Pa. coalition: The economy needs immigrants

President Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which protects 790,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. Business leaders are pushing to keep the program - and the people.

A woman holds up a sign outside the Capitol in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington.
A woman holds up a sign outside the Capitol in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program Tuesday on Capitol Hill in Washington.Read moreJacquelyn Martin

A statewide pro-immigration coalition stepped into existence on Wednesday morning, announcing itself hours before thousands of protesters prepared to converge on Washington to demand a permanent solution for young people whose DACA protection is ending.

Congress has until March to find a solution, after President Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects 790,000 undocumented immigrants brought into the United States as children.

The Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, a nonprofit advocate based in Center City, joined business, literacy, and community organizations to argue that immigrants — refugees, asylum-seekers, legal and illegal residents — make significant contributions to the state economy. Pennsylvania needs more immigrants, not fewer, they argued, given the state's stagnant population growth and the difficulties some employers encounter in finding workers.

In Pennsylvania in 2014, immigrant-led households paid $5 billion in federal taxes and $2.1 billion in state and local taxes, according to the American Immigration Council. The 5,889 DACA recipients in the state contributed an estimated $20.8 million in state and local taxes in 2016.

"Immigration affects every sector," said Nicole Pumphrey, director of strategic partnerships for the Welcoming Center, which was founded in 2003 and has served more than 15,000 people from 140 countries. "Ending the DACA program is not only devastating for thousands of young Pennsylvanians, who know this country as their only home, but will have devastating consequences for the economy."

To allow the end of DACA is irresponsible, she said.

Pennsylvania becomes the 14th state to form a coalition under the auspices of the New American Economy, a group of 500 Republican, Democratic, and Independent mayors and business leaders who support immigration reforms to help create jobs. NEA leaders say immigration brings in entrepreneurs and young workers who help offset the large-scale retirements in the baby boom generation.

Immigration opponents say newcomers are a drain on the economy, putting outsize demands on local and national social-service and education budgets.

The Welcoming Center works to speed the integration and economic advancement of immigrants through education and employment. It contends that by making Pennsylvania a magnet for immigrants, the state will become a more dynamic competitor in the global economy.

"We really want to work to reset the narrative on immigration," said Brandon Mendoza, government affairs manager of the Greater Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, a coalition member. "Immigration is a good thing, and we need to make sure we're supporting immigration reform, starting with the Dream Act."

Cheryl Hiester, executive director of the Literacy Council of Lancaster-Lebanon, said an estimated 10,000 jobs across employment sectors are unfilled in Lancaster County. Immigrants can help close that gap and are striving to do so.

About 65 percent of council clients sign up to learn English as a second language, and 40 percent of those are immigrants and refugees. They come from all over the world, including Nepal, Congo, Egypt, Ecuador, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic.

Many need to learn English to reclaim the positions they held as doctors and dentists in their home countries.

"Immigrants have powered economic growth for a very long time in the United States," she said. "Opposing immigration now doesn't make a lot of sense economically."