Republican Jaime Molera, founding partner of Phoenix consultancy Molera Alvarez, says a strong business climate depends on immigration reform. “When Arizona was going through a number of challenging policy issues, like the infamous and controversial Senate Bill 1070” — a law requiring police to determine the immigration status of any detainee they suspect is an undocumented immigrant — “we worked with various business organizations to make the case to the public that the real solution lies in comprehensive immigration reform,” Molera says. It was critical “that community members understand that from an economics perspective, (the law) didn’t make sense. That kind of legislation was driving a wedge into our state.”
Molera knows this firsthand. A native Arizonan from the border town of Nogales, Molera served as chief advisor on policy and legislative affairs to former Governor Jane Dee Hull and as Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction. He served two terms on the Arizona State Board of Education and has advised numerous politicians, including former Republican U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, the former Senate Minority Whip.
At the 13-year-old firm, Molera offers pro-business solutions to clients and is helping the city of Phoenix run its trade office. He organizes trade trips, is trying to get airlines to provide direct flights between Mexico and Phoenix, and generally “helps businesses cut through the red tape and bureaucracy,” says Molera, who has an office in Mexico City. “Mexico is by far Arizona’s largest trading partner.” In 2006, the Phoenix Business Journal named Molera one of the 50 most influential leaders in Arizona, and in 2012 it pronounced him one of the city’s 25 most admired business executives. Active in area chambers of commerce, he is dedicated to making the state a friendlier place to do business.
I think if you have comprehensive immigration reform based on workforce needs, it would be a much more humane, and from a common sense perspective, would get the workforce we need into our particular industries.
And that must include, he says, doing business south of the border. “I am a proponent of free trade,” Molera says. “NAFTA has been a huge boon for the U.S. and for Mexico. We’ve been a huge beneficiary. I think that it strengthens our respective countries and makes us more competitive against Asia and against the European Union. We are stronger in that we’re increasing our quality of life and everything that goes with it: Better healthcare, better environmental conditions, better education — all because we have a stronger economic base. We don’t want to go backwards with protectionist policies that have proven to be destructive.”
Instead, immigration policy should make it easier for foreign workers to come to the United States to perform the low-skilled, seasonal jobs that would otherwise go unfilled by American workers, he says. Agricultural field work, for example, is heavily dependent on migrant labor, in large part because American workers show scant interest in taking the jobs. “The majority of people who come to work here want to return to the land where they grew up,” Molera says. “But with an all-or-nothing system like we have now, we force people to do things like make dangerous treks through desert.” As a result, the very immigration policies that are intended to keep foreigners out of the country often end up keeping them in. Workers who would prefer to go home for the off-season instead remain in the United States, afraid to risk the next season‘s trek. “I think if you have comprehensive immigration reform based on workforce needs, it would be much more humane. And from a common-sense perspective it would get the workforce we need into our particular industries. Then those folks would have the opportunity to go home and use whatever skills they obtained to build in their home countries. In my opinion, it’s a twofer.”