So the president issued his executive order on immigration recently. And although the country still remains divided on the action itself, most of the business owners I speak to believe immigration reform is a good thing. And so do I. But the big question we all have is this: how will it affect my business? And the answer could be not at all.
The action is allowing millions of undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status in the U.S. The people who are affected are those who are parents of U .S. citizens and permanent residents who have resided in the country for at least five years. It also expands the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for immigrants who arrived here illegally (before it only for people under the age of 30). Not only that, but the action will make it easier for those who pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) degrees to get visas as well as entrepreneurs who start businesses or make other investments here. The action gives hope and promise to almost five million people and their future generations.
Also, the affects of the action could have a widespread impact on the business community, including your business and mine. Hiring workers to do unskilled or lower skilled work would be easier as many would now have the legal status to apply for jobs, increasing the pool. The risk of keeping existing and good employees who may have had a sketchy immigration status will be significantly reduced. The taxes immigrants will pay (assuming they do) into the system could provide billions towards paying down the country's deficits which could mean less taxes for us in the long run. Legal, working immigrants would also pay into the Medicare and social security systems, where they would be eligible for benefits but also provide much needed contributions. It would increase the pool of highly skilled people with STEM degrees that we can employ as well as potentially create more entrepreneurs that will provide us with services and products that could benefit our businesses. On the other hand, wages may go up, as newly emboldened people who now have legal status step up and demand more for their efforts. All of this could happen. Or not. Why?
The president's action could be illegal. And that's why our companies may not be impacted at all.
"Republicans will realize that President Obama's deferred enforcement action could be a bomb planted at the heart of the regulatory state." writes Eric A. Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School. "It will take only a Republican president to light the fuse."
At the heart of the action is something called Prosecutorial Discretion. This is defined as: "Discretionary powers exercised by the government's prosecution service such as whether to prosecute charge recommended by police, to stay an ongoing proceeding, plea bargaining, or the taking over of a private prosecution." The president's action is being hotly debated but one thing's clear: he can decide whether or not to go after illegal immigrants. And more importantly, so can his successor. It's just temporary relief. Which means that, barring any further legislation from Congress or a lawsuit challenging the action (both very strong possibilities), a new president in just two years could reverse or simply ignore it.
Now think of the undocumented immigrants who you may know. Put yourself in their shoes. These are people who may not trust the government. These are people who left their countries looking for a better life. Most were driven here for economic reasons. But many others fled countries where their own governments persecuted them or limited their freedoms. They are still terrified of being sent back home. As difficult as it's been, they've made a life for themselves here by operating under the government's radar. If that were you, and the president said you could come out and make yourself be known to the government BUT the action provides only temporary relief, OR Congress could enact legislation that changes it OR a lawsuit may make it illegal OR a new president in two years may decide to either reverse the action would you take this risk? Doesn't it seem like there are too many "Or's" here? Too many ways that could change? Too many risks? And then what happens to them if that does happen?
It will be interesting to see just how many illegal immigrants come out of the woodwork to apply for legal status. It's very possible that many will still not be convinced that the action is permanent enough to reveal themselves until an actual law is passed (and, given their past hardships it still may take some time to convince them). If this is the case, the president's action will likely have zero impact on your business and mine.
A version of this blog previously appeared on Inc.com.