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In America, Mississippi Lawyer Sees Strength in Diversity

In 2002, attorney  decided to become a small business owner. He opened Schwindaman Law Firm, and — with the help of a full-time paralegal — now takes on about 70 cases a year. At least 80 percent are immigration cases, covering everything from citizenship and asylum issues to student and work visas. “I’ve always been interested in immigration law,” says Schwindaman, who received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Dartmouth College before graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law. “The diversity of our country is one of our greatest strengths.”

Immigrants in Mississippi’s Second Congressional District, where Schwindaman’s firm is located, contribute much to their communities and local economy. In 2014, immigrants paid $45.8 million in taxes, and held $147.6 million in spending power. They also account for key segments of the construction, accommodation, food services, and retail trade industries, among others. And nearly 74 percent of them are working age — between the ages of 25 and 64 — compared with just 50 percent of U.S.-born residents, making them crucial to the future of the local workforce. More than 600 immigrants own their own businesses, and like Schwindaman, many employ other Americans. Nationally, more than 40 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants.

“My clients do just about every type of career in every field that you can imagine, from highly-trained professionals to tree planters and other physical labor,” Schwindaman says. “They are doctors, nurses, computer programmers, entrepreneurs — from all areas of the world.”

We’re talking about the best and brightest who have high degrees and skills that employers need, and we’re severely limiting them.

Schwindaman says immigration reform is important to help the economy as a whole, but especially for sectors that require physical labor. “Employers tell me often that they just cannot find American workers to do physically demanding jobs,” he says, especially those that are outside or in adverse conditions. Many of the employers he is talking about depend on a seasonal guest-worker visa called the H-2B. The H-2B non-agricultural temporary worker program allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs; it has an annual cap of 66,000 workers.

Schwindaman says what these business owners need is to have such a visa available year-round, which is not capped at 66,000. That limited number, he says, prevents many companies from expanding — and hiring more Americans full-time. “I feel like it will not take a significant amount of jobs from American workers because again, many types of employers would tell you that Americans are not interested in these jobs,” says Schwindaman.

He would also like to see the cap lifted on visas for high-skilled immigrants, especially in the fields dependent on skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), like health care, that are facing major worker shortages. For the H-1B visa lottery for high-skilled immigrants that is held the first week of April, “there are at least four times as many petitions filed as there are spots available,” Schwindaman says. “We’re talking about the best and brightest who have high degrees and skills that employers need, and we’re severely limiting them. That just lessens the United State’s ability to compete on a worldwide stage.” H-1B visa holders create jobs for U.S.-born workers across the country. By 2020, it is estimated that 700,000 American jobs will be created by the high-skilled foreign workers awarded that visa between 2010 and 2013.

Finally, Schwindaman wants to see some type of protection for undocumented immigrants such as the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients, who are already in the country and contributing. “I have a couple clients who are protected under DACA but will not be eligible to renew” since the 2017 announcement of DACA’s termination, he says. “They are fine young people. Both have been here since they were very young and are as American as you or I. It makes no sense to terminate their status now.”

What Americans have to recognize, concludes Schwindaman, is that the United States is competing in a global market, and immigrants are crucial to the country’s success. “By bringing in a whole variety of different cultures to contribute, it only makes us stronger as a country,” he says. “I’ve always believed that. And it’s always nice to be able to keep families together.”

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