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CEOs Join Cities in the Fight for Immigration Reform

06/25/2010 02:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

From police chiefs to mayors, city leaders have been increasingly outspoken about the pressing need for federal immigration reform. And with good reason: though regulating immigration is an exclusively federal task, local leaders are the ones who must deal with both the political pressures and practical challenges that stem from our unworkable immigration system. Just last week, an estimated 200 mayors gathered at the U.S. Conference of Mayors took a unified stance on the issue and passed resolutions opposing Arizona's law and calling for immigration reform.

And yesterday, in perhaps the most high profile effort to date, a group of mayors joined forces with prominent business leaders to announce the "Partnership for a New American Economy," a coalition formed to make the economic case for immigration reform. New York's own Mayor Bloomberg announced co-chairs from a diverse collection of cities: Mayor Castro of San Antonio, Mayor Nutter from Philadelphia, Mayor Phil Gordon from Phoenix and Mayor Villaraigosa from Los Angeles. From the business end, co-chairs include CEOs Rupert Murdoch, Robert Iger from Disney Co. and Jim McNerney of Boeing.

Of the effort, Phoenix Mayor Gordon says: "Delays at the federal level have created tension in our streets and economic hardship for our already budget-challenges cities and communities. Immigration reform that secures our borders and encourages legal migration is absolutely essential to our country's economic recovery."

Granted, the economic case for immigration reform isn't a new argument. Academics, activists and others have long held that reworking our immigration system will both bolster the economic contributions immigrants make to cities and yield sizable benefits for the country as a whole. But it's significant that in the ever-polarized immigration debate, a powerful group of elected officials and business titans are willing to take a rational look at the facts and advocate for immigration reform.

It's not surprising that the coalition argues for policies to "attract the world's best and brightest" and "remain competitive in the 21st century"; these phrases are something of a mantra for business leaders and moderate politicians looking to support immigration reform. The coalition also backs the standard increased border security and employer verification principles. What's a bit more unexpected is that the Partnership also favors establishing a path to legal status for currently undocumented immigrants. In our current immigration debate, any mention of an earned legalization program seems to elicit the knee-jerk "no amnesty" response. It's refreshing to hear a group of leaders--including the owner of Fox News, no less--publicly promoting comprehensive immigration reform that includes such a measure. Indeed, San Antonio Mayor Castro says: "We need to hit the reset button to bring the immigration debate out of the realm of political theater and into the arena of public policy."

In the coming months, the Partnership aims to work with Congress and President Obama to enact federal legislation that will solve the immigration crises plaguing our cities and states. But this announcement comes at a time when even Democratic support for immigration reform is flagging. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), a tireless supporter of immigration reform and co-sponsor of the only comprehensive bill in Congress, said that there aren't enough Democratic votes for the measure to pass the House. Perhaps a vote of confidence from leaders of our nation's largest cities and corporations is just what our federal legislators need to continue fighting for comprehensive immigration reform.