Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Immigration and Integration: The Role of the Private Sector



The 2010 U.S. Census results underlined not only the dramatic growth of the U.S. Hispanic population but its high mobility. In the last decade, data show that the number of Hispanics jumped by 43 percent—from 35.3 million in 2000 to 50.5 million in 2010—with this group accounting for over half of the total U.S. population increase. Latinos also continue to live in new destinations. Since 1990, the number of those living in the nine states with the historically highest concentrations of Hispanics shrank by 10 percentage points to a total of 76 percent.

The rise of the Hispanic population, together with an immigrant population estimated at 38.5 million (of which more than half are from Latin America), continues to spark a variety of public policy and private-sector responses. The most worrisome has been the explosion of anti-immigrant bills in state legislatures, which claim to be reacting to the absence of nationwide comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) and lack of enforcement.

More than 6,600 immigration-related bills were introduced in states between 2005 and 2010. Although only 838 bills were enacted, this level of activity is a clear illustration of the anxieties and fears in many parts of the country.1

The most controversial bills focus on the estimated 10.8 million undocumented immigrants, of whom approximately 62 percent are from Mexico, followed by El Salvador (5 percent), Guatemala (4 percent) and Honduras (3 percent).2 But as the debate about Arizona’s SB 1070 demonstrated, these bills and the political climate they respond to (and create) also affect U.S. citizens of Hispanic ancestry.

According to a 2010 Pew Hispanic Center survey, 61 percent of Latinos—a 7 percent increase from 2007—said that discrimination was a “major problem” that hampered their socioeconomic mobility. The correlation between discrimination against Hispanics and the growing anti-immigrant environment is no coincidence.3 Discrimination affects things like job prospects, educational opportunities and overall community cohesion. Moreover, 34 percent of all Hispanics said they, a family member, or a close friend had been the victim of racial or ethnic bias in the past five years.

Nevertheless, the anti-immigrant legislation has also triggered a constructive response from the private sector. Since proposed immigration reforms failed in Congress in 2007, many medium- and large-size businesses have spoken out about the socioeconomic contributions of immigrants and increased their own private programs to facilitate their integration into U.S. society.

Private Sector Fills the Void

As the U.S. population ages, the country’s future economic growth and competitiveness will depend on new entrants to the labor market, and those entrants will increasingly be foreign born or—given recent data on fertility rates—Hispanic. These populations are already making vast contributions to their communities. Supporting their integration can enhance these benefits.

But CIR and other legislation that may provide funding for integration can provide only some of the help.

That’s why U.S. businesses are stepping up to fill the void in federal legislative action. Business leaders across the country are now promoting integration through employer-led programs and initiatives involving partnerships between companies, community groups and/or local governments to develop programs that focus on language instruction, skills training, financial literacy, civic engagement, and health and wellness.

One example is the proliferation of programs to improve language proficiency, a crucial factor for socioeconomic mobility. Companies such as The Norsan Group, Miller & Long Concrete Construction, Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Tyson Foods, McDonald’s USA, and American Apparel offer on-site English courses before or after work, between shifts or on weekends.

Employees often balance a second job or other commitments with a desire to learn the language. Thus, the most successful programs work collaboratively with employers to determine the best time for classes. In research conducted nationwide and in select new gateway cities, we also found that incentives such as a certificate or promotional opportunities encourage course completion and reward good performance.

For example, Roslyn Dickerson, regional senior vice president of Americas corporate and public affairs at InterContinental Hotels Group, explains that the company helps its workforce develop personally and professionally. Employees are given help in moving up the career track through courses in English, or, in some cases, citizenship. Not only does integration develop talent internally but it also makes the hotel a place “where people like to come to work, ” which in turn strengthens the company’s image and builds its customer base, according to Dickerson.

Similarly, financial institutions with a large current and prospective Hispanic customer base have introduced programs to increase individual and household socioeconomic wellbeing. Wells Fargo, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co, and HSBC Bank USA are among firms providing information about their products at consulates, while offering special assistance to customers to facilitate access to credit and savings accounts.

Local and national banks and credit unions also collaborate with community groups to offer financial literacy and home ownership programs. This helps Hispanics build confidence in using financial institutions—a necessary goal with 19.3 percent of Hispanic households unbanked and 24 percent underbanked.4 Beyond promoting savings and investments, financial literacy boosts community safety by encouraging individuals to deposit cash instead of carrying it with them.

Education and skills development courses help workers move up in the company and also allow employers to promote internally, keeping talent and saving recruiting costs. “If we invest in team members, they are likely to be devoted to our company,” says Gary Denton, manager of human resources at Tyson Foods’ plant in Goodlettsville, TN. “We retain them, and they’re our future supervisors.” This approach is also being taken in companies such as Western Union and State Farm Insurance.

Even without CIR, many in the private sector are showing that there is an alternative to policies that result in discrimination. With the foreign-born population growing by close to 70 percent in new destinations such as South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee in the last decade, integration programs yield benefits for the intended beneficiaries and their employers, and can also serve to break down barriers and stereotypes toward Hispanics and immigrants overall.

In doing so, businesses are not only improving the productivity of their own workforce and companies; they are also providing a constructive, subtle way to address the anti-immigrant climate in their communities.

 

ENDNOTES

1.  “2010 Immigration-Related Laws and Resolutions in the States.” National Conference of State
Legislatures Immigration Policy Project: January 5, 2011.

2.  The population total is as of January 2009. Michael Hoefer, Nancy Rytina and Bryan C. Baker, “Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States: January 2009.” Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics, Population Estimates, January 2010.

3.  Mark Hugo Lopez, Rich Morin and Paul Taylor. “Illegal Immigration Backlash Worries, Divides Latinos.” Pew Hispanic Center: October 28, 2010.

4.  “FDIC National Survey of Unbanked and Underbanked Households.” Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: December 2009.

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