Survey: GOP business executives want immigrant workers, not voters

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
Font Size:

Most GOP-leaning business leaders want to hire more cheap foreign workers, but many are reluctant to see those workers get the right to vote, according to a new survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Seventy-five percent of the surveyed GOP executives in the Midwest back the Senate’s June 2013 immigration rewrite, but only 18 percent support a provision that would allow roughly 12 million illegal immigrants to quickly get citizenship and to vote in elections, the survey shows. Thirty-three percent oppose approve a multi-year process before citizenship is awarded, and 18 percent oppose citizenship for the workers.

“It is clearly rational, but it is the result of short-term thinking,” said Mark Krikorian, the director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

The executives aren’t necessarily greedy, and they “want to force down their labor costs somehow, but they understand that very high levels of immigration are politically problematic… [because] immigrants are disproportionately likely to vote for big government and liberal policies… [and for] more taxes and regulation,” he said.

Foreign workers usually end up on the election rolls, regardless of the executives’ initial preferences, he said. In the 2012 election, Latinos comprised 8.4 percent of the electorate, up from 7.4 percent in 2008, and 6 percent in 2004. (RELATED: Latino 2012 turnout lower than reported) 

One third of the GOP-leaning executives prefer the illegals return to their home countries.

GOP legislators are split over immigration policy.  The leadership seems to support a major increase in immigration, while most GOP legislators, voters and most swing voters oppose any increase.

Democratic executives, in contrast, were less likely to back the Senate bill, but more likely to back citizenship for new immigrants, said the survey. Sixty-three percent of Democratic executives support the rewrite, while 82 percent support quick or delayed citizenship.

The council’s survey of 500 Midwest business leaders also showed that a considerable number of executives simultaneously say their companies benefit from foreign workers — and that the foreign workers threaten American workers’ job security.

Sixty-eight percent of the executives said current levels of immigration are good for their companies, and a solid majority of 58 percent said the immigration threatens workers’ job security, according to the survey.

Overall, 65 percent of the 500 leaders said they support the Senate’s 2013 immigration rewrite.

The measure would provide amnesty for roughly 12 million illegals, double immigration to 2 million per year, and double the inflow of non-agricultural guest workers to roughly 1.3 million per year.

Thirty-four percent of the 500 business leaders oppose the bill.

Seventy-five percent support amnesty for illegals, compared to 45 percent of the public, said the survey.

Roughly 511,000 illegals live in Illinois, according to a February report from the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

Roughly 16 percent have a associate’s or graduate degree. Thirty percent didn’t even attend high school, and 47 percent didn’t graduate from high school, according to the study.

Of the 511,000 illegals, roughly 286,000 are in the workforce. Roughly 28,0000 are working in jobs associated with college degrees, and 83,000 are working in the food, building-maintenance or landscaping sectors. Roughly 52,000 are working in the production sector.

Almost fifty percent of the business leaders have hired immigrants, said the council’s study.

Business leaders who say they have not hired immigrants “tend to say they do not have problems finding qualified candidates,” the survey said.

Nine percent of executives at large firms said the Senate plan would be mostly negative, and a plurality of 38 percent said it would have mixed consequences. The harms, according to those executives, would be increase job insecurity for Americans.

Roughly one-seventh, or 14 percent, of leaders from small and medium sized businesses the much-touted immigration rewrite would be good because it would allow illegal immigrants to be legally hired.

Roughly one-in-six leaders say an immigration deal would be good because companies need “skilled and hard-working employees.”

Companies should be allowed to swiftly hire foreign professionals and blue-collar workers for jobs in hospitals, universities and power-grid companies, according to John Rowe, a co-chair of panel at the Chicago council that is pushing for increased immigration.

“We need a more open and faster way of allowing people to get permits to come here,” said Rowe, a former chairman and CEO of Exelon Corp., a huge Chicago-based power-generation company that operates nuclear reactors.

“Different businesses want different kinds of people. A restaurant may want waiters and cooks, a hospital wants nurses and doctors, a university wants physicists, a business like Exelon needs more engineers,” Rowe told an interviewer on Chicago Tonight last February.

When asked about the fate of unemployed Americans, Rowe was dismissive. “Most of these jobs [for immigrants] are in places where the existing unemployed either are unable to compete for them, or don’t want to compete for them,” he said.

“We need to find other ways to deal with that problem,” said Rowe, who is a large donor to the GOP.

“Message received loud and clear,” responded D.A. King, an immigration reformer in Georgia. “John Rowe to American workers: Drop dead!”

Rowe “wouldn’t recognize the real America if we walked up and asked to swim in his pool… Anyone who thinks the John Rowes of the anything-for-a-buck- business lobby would stop their howls about having to use American workers after [an amnesty] are likely anxiously waiting for that news to be delivered by the Easter bunny,”  King added.

The Chicago survey is a useful window into executives’ calculations about immigration and political power, said Krikorian. “It is good that once in while they say what they actually think,” Krikorian said.

Follow Neil on Twitter