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The Immigrant Engine

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Summer has just begun, graduations are happening across the nation, and as a soon-to-be high school seniors, my friends and I are starting the search for jobs. These last couple of years have been our first forays into the job market, and with this comes a new understanding of the condition of our economy, including a new uncertainty about our future.

We are in need of new jobs, and of job creators, to take some of the pressure off of our injured economy, yet our government seems to be ignoring a great power in job creation, immigrants.

There has been the longstanding, faulty idea that immigrants are stealing American jobs.

This is wrong.

Immigrants play a large and important role in our economy, founding many of our largest companies, as well as creating young small businesses with growth prospects. In fact, immigrants are starting businesses in growing fields like technology at high rates, are an increasingly large percentage of entrepreneurs in our nation, and also often pass down this entrepreneurial spirit to their children. For example, immigrants or the children of immigrants founded a full 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies.

Unfortunately, our immigration system is broken, denying many people the ability to more fully bolster our economy. Without comprehensive immigration reform, we risk wasting one of our country's most valuable resources: The people who want to live here.

Immigrants play an important, and surprisingly silent, role in our economy, employing millions of people in small and large business across our country. In fact, small businesses in which immigrants make at least half or more of the owners employ 14 percent of all people who work for small businesses. Further, 18 percent of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants directly netting $1.7 trillion. Yet in 2007, immigrants made up about 13 percent of the country's population.

Simply put, immigrants are creating jobs and outperforming their demographic, helping our economy and employing people in America.

The statistics become even more impressive when you look at what the children of immigrants do to bolster our nation, "The revenue generated by Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants or children of immigrants is greater than the GDP (gross domestic product) of every country in the world outside the U.S., except China and Japan." More specifically, companies founded by immigrants or their children made a combined $4.2 trillion in 2010. Let's not forget that those Fortune 500 companies play a major role in sustaining our economy. In fact, 73 percent of the Unites States' GDP was generated by Fortune 500 companies in 2010.

In addition it is important to note that this trend becomes even more pronounced further up the ladder. The companies behind seven out of 10 of the world's most valuable brands were founded by immigrants. Not only that but the local economies that are the homes of these behemoths, such as Silicon Valley, also see growth as small businesses from restaurants to grocery stores and more rise up to meet the demands of the growing workforce. This equates to an immense number of jobs and is a major factor in America being the world's predominant economic superpower.

It is true that not all immigrants are entrepreneurs, but immigrants are an investment that is paying off in our nation. Not only are children of immigrants a large force in American business, but a report by the Fiscal Policy Institute states that the number of native born entrepreneurs is decreasing, whereas the number of immigrant entrepreneurs is on the rise. In fact, an estimated 30 percent of the small business growth over the last two decades was driven by immigrants -- and immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business as native born Americans.

Immigration reform shouldn't just make it easier for highly educated workers to enter the country. It turns out that a large number of immigrants without college degrees are also starting small businesses. They too, are employing others. In fact the majority of immigrant small businesses owners (58 percent) do not have a college degree. (It is also worth noting that 56 percent of U.S.-born small business owners do not have a college degree either.)

Why do immigrants make up a large proportion of entrepreneurs? There are many factors. One prevalent idea is that starting a business is not all that different from immigrating. You face many of the same challenges but in slightly different ways. Also, a recent New York Times piece suggested immigrants are more likely to have a stronger sense of community, and therefore more people to turn to for help in starting a small business.

So what does this mean? Why should you care? Well, immigration policy in the United States is horribly complicated for starters. Without citizenship, it is harder to start a business, to support others, to boost our economy. It's time to support comprehensive immigration reform that has a roadmap for citizenship. Right now there's not even a line for people to stand in to apply for citizenship if they are already living and working in our nation. It's time to change that.

Currently we are leaving too many people out in the cold, shutting them out. Yet immigrant ingenuity bolsters our economy.

We are a nation of possibilities, of great potential where ideas can be realized. It's a waste, economically, to deny people the ability to fully contribute to our country.

The statistics speak for themselves: Immigrants bolster our economy. It's all in the numbers. But people are more than numbers on paper, and America is more than a set of data.

There are Americans who live here, work here, and have their families here. People who work hard for a better life for their kids, who fuel our economy, with whom the American dream is still strong. Yet we deny them the right to even apply to be called one of us, a citizen of our nation.

As a new generation of students and graduates start their economic journey, graduating from high school and college, it is our responsibility to make sure that the jobs and opportunities they are searching for are there. It is time for us to fix our broken immigration system -- and allow our nation to fully prosper.