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Immigration reform would benefit W.Va., White House says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. --  The immigration reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate and under consideration by the U.S. House would add nearly 1,300 jobs in West Virginia and boost the state's economic output by $107 million in 2014, according to a report released by the White House Thursday.

The bill would raise the number of visas available for high-skilled workers and establish a new visa program for low-skilled workers like farm workers. It also would create a 13-year path to citizenship, with numerous caveats, for undocumented immigrants currently in the country.

Further, it provides for 20,000 additional border agents, 700 miles of fence along the Mexico border and $3.2 billion in technology upgrades for border security.

West Virginia has a very low immigrant population, as only 1.7 percent of West Virginia's workforce is foreign-born, which is the fourth-lowest rate of any state in the country, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, the White House analysis predicts substantial effects for the state.

The report estimates that had the Senate bill been in place in 2010, it would have increased the state and local taxes paid by immigrants in West Virginia by $1 million.

The report comes from an analysis by Regional Economic Models Inc. REMI estimates that the expansion of high-skilled H-1B visas would create more than 700 jobs in West Virginia in 2014.

It estimates that expanding low-skilled visas would create about 300 jobs in the state in 2014, and enrolling undocumented immigrants in a pathway to legal status program would create an additional 300 jobs.

Underlying data was not made available and a White House official was vague when asked how analysts arrived at the numbers.

"The precision reflects the model that they used and the results that they published and we put that together with other additional analysis that was done," said Josh Earnest, principal deputy press secretary at the White House.

The report stresses the economic benefits provided by immigration reform.

Gene Sperling, the director of President Obama's National Economic Council, pointed to a Congressional Budget Office report that said the immigration bill would increase GDP by $700 billion over a 10-year period while also cutting the deficit by $158 billion over that same period.

"Immigration reform is just the right thing to do, but it's also very clear from a variety of economic sources that it's the smart thing to do as well," Sperling said on a conference call Thursday. "There is such a strong economic logic for moving forward that the cost of inaction is very high."

It's estimated that there are 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Congress has not made major changes to immigration laws since 1986.

The bill passed the Senate 68-32, garnering the support of all 54 Democrats as well as 14 Republicans, but its prospects are uncertain in the House. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has pledged not to bring it to a vote unless it has the support of a majority of Republicans.

"There are a lot of people ... who believe that if the Senate compromise were put on the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote tomorrow it would pass," Earnest said. "We do have a situation where a relatively small number of Republicans are blocking a piece of legislation that has bipartisan majority support."

Kenny Perdue, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, fully supports the immigration bill.

"Every worker needs to be treated with respect and in order to be treated with respect, they need to become legal citizens," Perdue said. "They're making money, they're paying taxes in more of an open way than they typically would because they're not in hiding. I wouldn't call them productive citizens the way they are now."

A representative of the state Chamber of Commerce did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday, although the national Chamber has been supportive of the Senate bill.

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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