New England editorial roundup

The Sun Journal of Lewiston (Maine), July 6, 2012

As the presidential campaign heats up so will the debate over the role of immigrants in our economy and our communities.

That has been an ongoing conversation in Lewiston-Auburn for the past 10 years and a hot-button topic in southwestern border states for decades.

But the controversy will likely get louder as Mitt Romney and Barack Obama debate two current subjects.

First, in 2010 the Arizona Legislature passed the toughest anti-illegal immigrant law in the land. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a controversial provision of the law allowing police officers to ask people for immigration status documentation.

But the court also struck down two other provisions allowing police to arrest and hold illegal immigrants and another section that would have prevented illegal immigrants from seeking jobs.

Second, the DREAM Act would give conditional permanent residency to people who arrived illegally in the U.S. as minors. They could eventually obtain citizenship by fulfilling certain military obligations or by obtaining a college degree.

To be clear, much of the upcoming debate will be over illegal immigration. Too often, however, many Americans seem hostile to immigrants in general.

Two recent reports, however, suggest immigrants will be critical to sustaining our economy as our native-born population ages.

The Fiscal Policy Institute, a New York State research group, reported June 14 that more than one sixth of small business owners in the U.S. were not born here.

The data is drawn from the 2010 Census and American Community Survey.

Those immigrant-owned small businesses, with fewer than 100 employees, employ 4.7 million Americans and had total receipts of $776 billion.

A host of studies have found that immigrant Americans are more likely to be entrepreneurs than native-born Americans and to seek Small Business Administration loans. The SBA reports immigrants are twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a small business.

One study in 2008 found that half of Silicon Valley start-ups are founded by immigrants.

New arrivals from other lands are particularly over-represented in the high-growth industries requiring mastery of STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math.

What's more, 76 percent of patents from America's top universities have a foreign-born inventor.

While immigrants are over-represented in hard sciences, they are, as the study notes, "more likely to be found on Main Street than in a technology park."

Thirty-seven percent of restaurant owners are immigrants, as are 49 percent of grocery store owners and 54 percent of laundry and dry cleaning firm owners.

That finding is reinforced by a broader report released in March by the Brookings Institute showing immigrants are clustered in both high-skill and low-skill jobs in our economy.

As more Americans obtain high school degrees, technical training and higher education, immigrants are filling jobs in agriculture, in manual labor and as maids and restaurant workers.

In 1994, 72 percent of American workers without a high school diploma were U.S.-born. By 2010, they made up just 48 percent, according to the Brookings report.

Immigrants fill nearly one in four jobs in information technology and high-tech manufacturing. On the other hand, they make up about half the workers in private households and in the accommodation industry.

Immigrants are also over-represented in health care, where they fill not only the most highly skilled positions as surgeons, but as hospital orderlies and laundry workers.

In most industries like construction, native-born Americans are more likely to serve as managers, supervisors and in skilled positions such as carpenters, plumbers and electricians.

Ninety-seven percent of farmers and ranchers are native-born, while 60 percent of their workers are not.

The important message in the statistics is clear and should not be confused in the upcoming debate.

As our native-born population ages, and as the U.S. birth rate declines, our economic self-interest depends upon welcoming young, ambitious, talented students and workers from abroad.

The Rutland (Vt.) Herald, July 2, 2012

While Americans are attempting to fully comprehend the U.S. Supreme Court's hugely controversial ruling on President Obama's health care program last week, another issue is begging for attention. And a Vermont resident, famed environmentalist Bill McKibben, is doing his part to bring that other issue into clearer focus.

Writing in a recent edition of the London-based newspaper The Guardian, McKibben declared, flatly, that "global warming is under way" and he cited several signs that support his contention.

"In the Gulf, tropical storm Debby dropped what one meteorologist described as 'unthinkable amounts' of rain on Florida. Debby marked the first time in history that we'd reached the fourth named storm of the year in June; normally it takes till August to reach that mark," he began.

"In the west, of course, firestorms raged: the biggest fire in New Mexico history, and the most destructive in Colorado's annals," McKibben, of Middlebury College, continued. "(That would be the Colorado Springs blaze; the old record had been set the week before, in Fort Collins.) One resident described escaping across suburban soccer fields in his car with 'hell in the rearview mirror.'"

McKibben went on, "The record-setting temperatures (it had never been warmer in Colorado) that fueled those blazes drifted east across the continent as the week wore on: Across the Plains, there were places where the mercury reached levels it hadn't touched even in the Dust Bowl years, America's previous all-time highs."

But remember: McKibben was writing for a British audience. Here at home, the relationship between the recent weather and the issue of global warming was not being addressed quite as directly.

Sunday's Washington Post was dominated by accounts of the tremendously damaging storm that swept through areas surrounding our nation's capital this weekend. The storm took several lives, knocked down trees, and left vast numbers of people without electric power.

That was bad enough, but the storm was followed by an unbearable heat wave, so there was no air conditioning to offer relief.

But the Washington area was by no means the only area suffering from the heat wave. As McKibben pointed out in his Guardian essay, the high temperatures posed a huge problem for American farmers. He quoted the president of a Nebraska-based commodity consulting firm: "There's always some level of angst at this time of year, but it's significantly greater now and with good reason," Bill Lapp said. "We've had extended periods of drought."

That's why, McKibben added, "Prices for corn and wheat were spiking upwards, rising almost a third on global markets as forecasters suggested grain stockpiles could shrink by as much as 50 percent as the summer wears on. But in the political world, there wasn't much reaction at all."

And that last sentence is the one that deserves our attention, because it implies that our nation is not yet ready, politically, to respond constructively to the grave implications of global warming. There are still politicians who view the entire topic with either suspicion (they don't trust the scientists) or cynicism (it's an issue too dear to the hearts of their ideological opponents).

Last week the CBS Evening News reported that unless something is done soon, the eastern shore from North Carolina to Massachusetts will in time be swamped by rising tides. But the program did not mention the political opposition — or the public's seeming indifference — to any proposals to prevent such a catastrophe.

McKibben's conclusion: "There are disaster areas declared across the country right now, but the biggest one is in D.C."

Americans, collectively, need to wake up. Global warming shouldn't be a political issue.

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