America's biggest businesses — from Apple to Koch Industries — have cheered President Trump's tax plan and his push to rollback regulations, but they say Trump is wrong on immigration. Throwing a million immigrant workers out of this country, as Trump is threatening to do, would be devastating for the economy, business leaders say.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest business lobbying organization and a powerful financial backer of many GOP senators and representatives, went as far as to predict “there will be a big upheaval” if Trump deports the 690,000 young immigrant “dreamers” and the 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants who have been in the country under a program known as temporary protected status. Another 30,000 spouses of highly-skilled immigrants are also losing the right to work. In December, the Trump administration said it would do away with an Obama-era rule that allowed spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the United States.
“Think about taking 1 million workers out of our [economy] and what that would do to us right now,” said Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce after his giving annual “State of American Business” address. “Think about who those people are. They are our neighbors.”
Many of Trump's top economic priorities for 2018 would be jeopardized if the administration starts mass deportations of these immigrants, many of whom work and have been in the country for years, Donohue said. Trump says he plans to unveil an infrastructure package soon, but Donohue says there aren't enough workers left to do all the rebuilding of roads, bridges and ports that politicians in Washington envision.
“If we do a $1 trillion-plus, 10-year infrastructure plan, we can't do that with the workers we have now,” said Donohue.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce building is located just north of the White House. Two big banners that say “America. Built By Dreamers” are sitting just outside the front doors of the Chamber's building, aimed toward the White House.
Trump faces a tricky political and economic calculus on immigration. He promised his base of mostly white working-class voters in the Rust Belt that he would heavily restrict immigration, but the business community that has rallied around him again after the major overhaul of the tax code is adamant that the economic momentum of Trump's first year in office would fade if the president takes heavy-handed action to close America's borders to trade and immigration.
In a sign of just how united the business community is on immigration, Apple chief executive Tim Cook and Koch Industries chief executive Charles Koch, who often differ on politics, have recently joined forces to demand that Congress act swiftly to save the dreamers.
“This is a political, economic and moral imperative,” Cook and Koch wrote in a Washington Post op-ed in December. “On a question as straightforward as this one, we are firmly aligned.”
Unemployment is at the lowest level since 2000, and African American unemployment is at a record low, which Trump himself said he was “so happy” about last week. While many have pointed out that there is still an alarming number of people, especially men in their 20s through 50s, who are sitting on the sidelines because of drug addictions or other problems, the reality is not all of these people will be fit to work, business leaders say. Donohue noted that 20 percent of people who attempt to work in the construction industry “fail a drug test and can't work there.”
Congress has until March to find a solution for the dreamers — immigrants who were illegally brought to the United States at a young age and grew up in the country. Trump and some Republicans want to see broader immigration reforms, including the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as part of any deal for the 690,000 people currently in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. On top of that, the White House said this week that Salvadoran immigrants in the country under the TPS would have until September 2019 to leave or find a way to get a green card.
The Chamber said it was encouraged by the lengthy meeting Trump had Tuesday on immigration with members of Congress. Neil Bradley, the Chamber's top policy expert, said he felt the most productive outcome from the meeting was that the president acknowledged that immigration is going to have to move in “phases” and the first phase was to fix DACA and the Salvadoran immigrants.
“I don't think after all these years you tell everybody sayonara. It ain't going to happen,” predicted Donohue.