David Brodwin is a cofounder and board member of American Sustainable Business Council. Follow him on Twitter at @davidbrodwin.
As Congress, the White House, and the nation debate immigration policy, it's important to consider how immigration affects the U.S. economy and, most importantly, the small business sector. After all, fast-growing small businesses contribute the majority of all net new jobs in the United States.
Recently, the American Sustainable Business Council commissioned a telephone survey to explore this crucial question. It hired pollster Lake Research to survey 515 owners of businesses, ranging from two to 99 employees. Read the full poll report online at the ASBC website. The randomly selected owners represented a broad and diverse cross-section of businesses across the United States.
Small business owners are tired of the debate and they want action. By a large majority, more than two-thirds, small business owners want a roadmap that provides a path to citizenship for immigrants already here in the U.S. The path to citizenship is endorsed by majorities of business owners regardless of political party. (47 percent of those polled were Republican or Republican-leaning, compared to 27 percent who said they were Democrats, or leaned that way.) Support for a roadmap to citizenship held across company size, and in all regions of the U.S.
In addition to seeking a path to citizenship for immigrants already here, small business owners want policies changed for future generations of immigrants. Again, by a large bipartisan majority (61 percent to 27 percent), owners called for a program that provides a path to citizenship for future immigrants. They rejected the option of providing just a guest worker program for temporary employment with no path to citizenship.
Small business owners cited diverse considerations for supporting ongoing immigration and a path towards citizenship. Most importantly, they recognized that immigration has always been important, throughout America's history, in building a strong economy. 82 percent of owners see the issue as one of economics, agreeing that "outdated and out-of-touch immigration policies are hindering our economic progress," while only 14 percent disagreed.
At the same time, small business owners see immigration as a source of demand that helps their companies grow. 71 percent agreed that "the economic integration of new American immigrants…will strengthen the customer base for small businesses," while only 25 percent disagreed.
Small business owners believe that outdated and inadequate immigration policies undermine the morale and productivity of the workforce. 67 percent agreed that laws separating employees from their families "impact morale and focus in the workplace. Keeping families together [helps] ensure a productive and focused workforce for small business."
Immigration will probably always be a polarizing issue in American politics. Some see it in terms of competition for scarce jobs, others see it as a security issue, but growing numbers recognize it as an essential part of the American dream, a force that keeps America strong and innovative. This recent poll confirms that small business owners see immigration as a cornerstone of the American economy, and extremely important for helping their own companies grow, prosper, and continue to hire.
It's time to take action. It's time for a new legal framework that offers citizenship to immigrants who come here to work hard and help build a vibrant and sustainable economy.