4-16-13 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
by Bill Lambrecht
WASHINGTON — Missouri’s senators reacted with caution to the unveiling today of new immigration proposals but the head of a business coalition viewed it as a step toward curing St. Louis’s stagnant population growth.
Joe Reagan, president and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber, said he is pleased that Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and a bipartisan group of senators had reached agreement on an overhaul of immigration laws that includes a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people.
“We absolutely see this as a step, and a big step, in the right direction,” Reagan said.
Reagan said that the so-called Gang of Eight proposals “certainly align with the viewpoint we see here in the St. Louis business community — trying to be a more welcoming nation, trying to make a more clear and streamlined path to citizenship, making sure that rules and boundaries that we have are clear for citizens and employers.”
Immigration reform promises to be one of the most ambitious — and controversial — issues this Congress takes up.
Senators from both parties say it stands a good chance of passage given GOP concerns about appealing to the fast-growing bloc of Hispanic voters.
Hoping to make their plan more palatable, senators included a series of so-called triggers that would require the government to spend billions of dollars over the next decade to increase border enforcement and build more fences in the Southwest.
The legislation also calls for an elaborate system for employers to verify the legal status of new hires and creates separate guest-worker programs, one for farm workers and the other for low-wage laborers.
Missouri senators did not rush to embrace the legislation.
“If this was easy, we would have solved it in the last 20 years,” said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
A spokesman said that Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, would review the proposals in coming days, adding, “Any immigration overhaul Claire supports will have to meet three criteria: It must build on our success in bolstering border security; punish employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants; and it must include consequences for those who came here illegally.”
But Durbin, who spent as long as five hours a day negotiating the legislation, called it “a good bill. There are things in it that I would never have put in my version and I’m sure they would say the same on the other side of the table. But it’s a balanced approach.”
A regional coalition that includes the St. Louis Economic Council, the St. Louis Development Corp. and other local entities and universities has been pressing Congress for policies that could spur the arrival of immigrants of all skill levels.
Reagan observed that cities roughly the size of St. Louis are profiting from an immigrant population that is four or five times the size of the new arrivals in St. Louis.
“We need to attract more people and the quesiton is, do people follow jobs or do jobs follow people? Absolutely, jobs follow people,” he said.
“When we look at why our population growth hasn’t been as robust as we want, we can absolutely see we’re under-performing in foreign immigration.”