Published by The Prince George’s Sentinel
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) motioned “come on” with his hand, leaning forward out of his chair at the head of the long conference table. He was summarizing the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill for the county’s chamber of commerce.
Cardin outlined the impact of the federal sequestration and bipartisan “path to citizenship” immigration bill, fielding questions from the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce on health care, community banking, education, work visas and the future FBI Headquarters during a congressional legislative update on Monday afternoon.
“Visas are made stronger through the immigration reform bill,” he said. “It means if somebody wants to come over here and bring their money – come on.”
While strengthening border security, the legislation would grant 11 million undocumented immigrants legal status, lengthen permanent visas for many foreign graduates of U.S. universities, increase the number of temporary high-skilled visas and expand opportunities for entrepreneurs to pursue investment opportunities in the country, according to The Immigration Policy Center.
“The immigration bill will help business growth in this country,” Cardin said. “It’s just very positive for American values, very positive for (the) American economy.”
“Immigration reform should be a done deal,” he said. “Why we stop highly skilled people from coming to America to work is beyond me.”
Government transparency website GovTrack.us gives the bill 27 percent chance of enactment, but Cardin remains optimistic that the bill will receive enough Senate votes within the next three weeks.
Sixty senators have to cosponsor the bill before it is sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Representing 900 businesses, Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce stands behind Cardin’s support for the bill.
“We’re very much for it,” President and Chamber CEO David Harrington said on behalf of the non-profit alliance. “We don’t have the workforce and, so, immigration, I mean, it’s something that is the hallmark of this nation.”
Maryland’s 275,000 undocumented immigrants account for more than 6 percent of the labor force, according to the Pew Research Hispanic Center.
The state will lose an estimated $66,000 in job search assistance, referral and placement funding as a result of the sequester, which means 9,270 fewer people will get the help and skills they need to find employment, according to a fact sheet published by The White House. It also estimates that 440 fewer students will get work-study jobs.
“There’s not an agency that was cut by this that could continue to operate under its current mission under sequestration,” he said. “Something has to give.”
The sequester began March 1 after Congress failed to compromise on a federal deficit reduction plan.
“It (has) really compromised services,” Harrington said of the budget cuts. “We’re hearing from the business community things like processing permits or trying to get information about grant opportunities (is) far more difficult than they used to be.”
Maryland’s economy is “particularly vulnerable,” to sequestration fallout because of its many federal employees and contractors, Cardin said. The state is ranked fourth in federal government employment and its non-military federal jobs generate $13.4 billion in total wages, according to Maryland’s Department of Business & Economic Development.
Nexus Health CEO Verna Meacham pointed to impacts of the federal budget cuts on Maryland hospitals and its healthcare workforce. Hospitals will be forced to delay purchasing new technology and capital equipment.
Construction projects, renovations and upgrades will be deferred or abandoned, she said.
“We may not be able to retain all of the staff that we have as hospitals,” Meacham said of the industry.
Still, Meacham was encouraged by Cardin’s words on what she called the “do-ability” of congressional legislative initiatives and Maryland’s status as a “progressive” state, “well-positioned” for the future. The senator only explicitly mentioned position when discussing the race against Fairfax County, Va., for the site of the new FBI headquarters.
“It’s going to be a tough competition, but what Prince George’s County has is more space (and) a broader campus location,” Cardin said. “We’re in excellent position.”
Cardin said the relocation to the “Free State” is more cost-effective for the federal government. It would also bring more jobs to Maryland.
“Jobs are our No.1 priority. If I could wave a magic wand to get something done in Washington, it would be to give you all predictability to pass a budget that makes sense for this country,” Cardin said.