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US business chiefs call for immigration reform

Heads of major US companies on Wednesday urged immigration reform as crucial to boosting US economic growth, amid speculation the issue was dead after a shock Republican election defeat.

WASHINGTON: Heads of major US companies on Wednesday urged immigration reform as crucial to boosting US economic growth, amid speculation the issue was dead after a shock Republican election defeat.

The Business Roundtable, an influential group representing top chief executives, said that fixing America's "broken immigration system" would unleash a powerful force that drives growth and bolsters the business sector.

The group issued a report laying out the economic case for immigration reform, which coincidentally landed as Washington political circles reeled from Tuesday's unexpected defeat of Republican Party chieftain Eric Cantor in a Virginia primary election.

Cantor, the US House of Representatives majority leader, was trounced by a university professor backed by the radical conservative Tea Party, David Brat, who campaigned against Cantor's support of legislation that would allow the children of illegal immigrants to remain in the country and become US citizens.

The defeat of Cantor, one of the most powerful politicians in Washington, raised warning flags to any Republican considering support for a path to citizenship to the country's 12 million illegal immigrants, analysts said.

The president of the Business Roundtable (BRT), John Engler, told AFP "there's no question there's been an impact" from the Cantor rout.

But Engler pointed to the resounding victory of one of the Republican sponsors of the Senate immigration bill, Senator Lindsey Graham, who easily won his South Carolina primary on Tuesday.

Numerous public opinion surveys have shown strong support for comprehensive and balanced immigration reform, said Engler, a Republican former three-term governor of Michigan.

"The issue is very important for the nation."

The Business Roundtable called for "sensible" reform, saying there were compelling reasons to fix a system that includes an ongoing flood of illegal immigrants across the US-Mexico border.

"The numbers and the people tell the story: Immigration is an all-around success for America's economy, and fixing the system would produce a win-win deal to the benefit of both immigrants and native-born Americans," said Greg Brown, chairman and CEO of Motorola Solutions, and chair of the Rountable's immigration committee.

The report cited data from the Bipartisan Policy Centre estimating that reform would increase gross domestic product by 4.8 per cent over 20 years and decrease federal deficits by $1.2 trillion.

Immigration reform would expand the US labour force, thus directly boosting overall economic output, and increase tax revenues, helping to brighten the country's long-term fiscal outlook.

The report noted several studies had concluded that new immigrants would generally participate in the labour force at a higher rate than the current US population, another factor promoting faster growth.

Data showed that immigrants or their children had founded 40 per cent of the Fortune 500 companies, and immigrants are nearly 50 per cent more likely to start a business, the report said.

"Immigrants have been, and will continue to be, critical to the success of both BRT companies and the overall US economy. Indeed, most BRT companies depend on US-based foreign-born workers to supplement their domestic workforce."

The report also featured the success stories of some immigrant executives, including Carlos Rodriguez, head of payrolls firm ADP, who fled Castro's Cuba as a boy with his family.

Former US Accenture CEO Jorge Benitez also arrived in the US as a Cuban political refugee, while Indian national Krish Prabhu, now chief technology officer at AT&T, came to the US for study and has lived in the country for nearly 40 years as a permanent resident.

"By putting an often-neglected human face on the immigration issue, we're reminded of the significant contribution immigrants make to our economy, businesses and society," Brown said.

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