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More immigrant CEOs should be like Chipotle's Moran

Felicia Persaud | 12/29/2011, 2:30 p.m.
Letter No. 30: Immigration reform now!

This past year, several organizations have released data that prove immigrants are truly important in driving economic growth and innovation in America. Not only are they laborers, but as the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization in Arlington, Va., revealed last week, nearly half of America's top 50 venture-backed companies are immigrant-founded, while many more are headed by immigrant CEOs.

But few CEOs, immigrant or not, are speaking out as much for immigration reform as Chipotle's Monty Moran, who employs 30,000 people nationwide, half of whom are Latino.

Since Chipotle, the burrito chain, was forced to fire hundreds of workers in Minnesota, Virginia and D.C. because they were undocumented, its immigrant CEO has become an advocate for immigration reform.

Moran has now taken to meeting with members of Congress from Colorado, New York, Texas and California in an effort to overhaul the immigration system. As he summed it up aptly to the Wall Street Journal: "Immigration is really messed up."

His message to politicians is that the company can't keep its staff full if it can't hire immigrants. He wants an alternative solution that will allow immigrants to work legally and permanently, a recommendation that has been made consistently by many advocates, including this writer. What is so hard about giving hard-working undocumented immigrants work permits and travel documents so they can live and work legally?

The reality is that until more CEOs with power and money who pay the $38,000 per plate price to attend fundraising dinners for politicians, including for Obama in New York and Silicon Valley, speak up for this cause, little-if anything at all-will get done.

We've already heard the madness from the right-wingers and the deafening silence from the Obama White House. Now it's time for the immigrants who lead almost 75 percent of our country's leading cutting-edge and top venture-backed companies to add their voices to Moran's.

After all, immigrant founders have created an average of approximately 150 jobs per company in the United States, and today's breakthrough companies are often founded by immigrants or at least employ foreign-born scientists, engineers or CEOs crucial to business growth and product development, according to NFAP.

The argument has to be consistently economic in order for the politicians to take immigration reform seriously, especially since, as NFAP says, "Policies that help retain talent in the United States are likely to yield both more startup companies and the personnel needed to create more jobs and innovation in America."

As Moran wisely put it: "We've got a business to run and need great people. It's always been our job to build the business up with the foundation of the very best people we can find. Period."

The writer is founder of NewsAmericasNow, CaribPR Wire and Hard Beat Communications.