THE BLOG
11/05/2013 12:15 pm ET | Updated Dec 31, 2013

Immigration Reform: It's Not Dead After All

With everything from Twitter's IPO to Obamacare dominating the headlines, it seems like months since we've heard anything on immigration reform.

But this week, we were reminded that even some business-conservative groups are continuing to push for immigration action in Washington. On Tuesday, an eclectic mix of executives, evangelical leaders and prominent conservatives met at the Capitol, urging GOP lawmakers to get immigration overhaul on the House floor before year's end.

The alliance aimed its message at nearly 150 House Republicans who might support comprehensive reform, including a pathway to citizenship for million of undocumented residents. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a sweeping immigration bill, but the measure has stalled in the Republican-controlled House, where staunch conservatives either oppose it all together or favor a more piecemeal approach.

The immigration-reform issue is one that entrepreneurs, including many in the TSE community, are closely watching. Proponents like Steve Case have argued that the U.S. needs to do more to attract immigrants with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (the so-called STEM fields), who start or work for high-growth tech companies that create jobs and spur innovation. The Kauffman Foundation has estimated that offering startup visas to foreign-born entrepreneurs could add as much as 1.6 million new jobs over the next 10 years.

In our recent Immigration series, we took a look at immigrant women, who as a group are starting businesses at a rate higher than native-born women, according to 2012 census data. Like male immigrants, many foreign-born women say they are motivated to start a business to increase their standing in life; the traditional workplace doesn't appeal because of language barriers or ethnic discrimination.

Yet, while more immigrant women are leading small businesses than ever, they continue to report barriers, such as lack of access to capital and limited networking opportunities, according to Susan Pearce, Elizabeth Clifford and Reena Tandon, authors of  Immigration and Women: Understanding the American Experience. They argue that more needs to be done to help this new wave of foreign-born women entrepreneurs, including friendlier government policies and more outreach by the Small Business Administration.

In our series, we spoke to Ecuadorean-born Nina Vaca, who started Pinnacle Technical Resources, a staffing company in Dallas that now posts more than $200 million in annual revenue and employs 4,000 people. Vaca served as chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce from 2010 to 2012, where she advocated for more programs and services for Latin-owned businesses. The Chamber estimates that the nation's 3.1 million Hispanic-owned business add $468 billion to the American economy annually.

The role "afforded me the opportunity to bring to light the contributions that Hispanic businesses are making to this country," Vaca says. "I think immigrants have a lot to contribute to this country. I'm living proof."

We also spoke with Indian-born attorney Sheela Murthy, whose 12-year struggle to get a green card inspired her to start Murthy Law Firm, a Baltimore practice that assists people going through the immigration process.

Murthy, a Harvard-educated lawyer, says she was treated without respect, which made her wonder how less-educated foreign workers -- "the cooks and the chefs and the cleaning people" -- fared. Her law firm, she decided, would "be about compassion and empathy and caring for people."

Murthy Law Firm now makes more than $10 million in annual revenue and employs about 110 workers. "We need to be open to immigrants, whether they are highly educated or not," she says. "The entrepreneurial spirits of immigrants is what will keep America on [its] toes."