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Business groups are active in the immigration debate. They have to be. They represent employers who sometimes get investigated, even prosecuted, for hiring workers not approved to work in the U.S. legally. But as NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, the president's executive action doesn't change much for the business lobby.
YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: Among other things, the executive action will allow more undocumented immigrants with U.S.-born children to apply for work permits. But Matt Sonnesyn says that will not help businesses with their key immigration concerns.
MATT SONNESYN: Last night's actions do help for those who are already here to have some security that they're going to be able to remain and continue working. But they don't really address the questions of how we attract and retain those workers from around the world.
NOGUCHI: Sonnesyn is a senior director at the Business Roundtable, which represents large businesses. He notes the president did extend a program giving high-skilled students the ability to work while applying for a visa. And there is some added flexibility for those who already have work visas to move between jobs. But Sonnesyn says the action does not increase the total number of visas available - either too high or low-skilled temporary workers. And that is a big blow to business groups, especially as the U.S. economy recovers. Many big employers want to recruit more science and technology workers as well as skilled laborers in fields like manufacturing and construction. But, Sonnesyn says, that's also not a surprise. The president could only act on enforcement - things like border control and deportation of criminals, not legislation.
DOUGLAS HOLTZ-EAKIN: The president just didn't have the authority to go to the core of what we see as important for growing the economy over time.
NOGUCHI: Douglas Holtz-Eakin is a former George W. Bush Administration economist and now president of the American Action Forum, a policy analysis group.
HOLTZ-EAKIN: I think the business groups are going to be by and large disappointed. There really wasn't much in there for them.
NOGUCHI: Many business groups, including the National Federation of Independent Business and National Association of Manufacturers, support a national system allowing employers to check whether someone is permitted to work legally. That system, known as E-Verify, can reduce an employer's legal liability if they hire someone with falsified documents. E-Verify received no mention last night. Holtz-Eakin says what might be surprising, given the partisan rhetoric, is how little daylight there is between the president's policy position and that of most Republicans and the business community.
HOLTZ-EAKIN: There's much less division than people realize.
NOGUCHI: The president supports the immigration bill that passed the Senate a year and a half ago - something the business community also supports, but which the Republican leadership in the House has not brought up for a vote.
HOLTZ-EAKIN: There's no disagreement on the policy. The issue is 100 percent politics. And the sad reality is the president pushed the politics in the wrong direction last night.
NOGUCHI: That certainly is the position of some Republicans in leadership who are angry the president acted unilaterally. Robert Litan is a fellow at the Brookings Institution.
ROBERT LITAN: He could have done all this quietly, without making any announcement whatsoever.
NOGUCHI: But he didn't. And Litan says he instead chose a high-stakes political gamble that could pay off if Republicans in Congress take up the president's challenge and pass immigration legislation. In any event, Litan says, it's hard to know what the ultimate business implications of last night's actions are.
LITAN: Bottom line is business community, like everyone else, is waiting to see what the next move is going to be in Congress - whether there's going to be a legal challenge and so forth. And at the end of the day, whatever the president can do can only last for two years. The next president could decide to undo the whole thing.
NOGUCHI: And so the debate over immigration may have just begun. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington.
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