Thousands of immigrants living, working, earning degrees and paying taxes in Nebraska are stuck in legal limbo, Omaha and Lincoln Chamber of Commerce officials say, putting at risk the “important role” they play in the state’s economy.

That’s why the heads of both chambers joined dozens of others across the country Thursday to advocate for “Dreamers” and other immigrants with temporary legal status, calling on Congress to provide permanent legal protection and a path to citizenship.

“They are talented and committed individuals and integral to our shared growth,” said David Brown, president and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. “Progress depends on everyone.”

Brown and Lincoln Chamber of Commerce President Wendy Birdsall were among 60 chamber leaders from 26 states who signed an open letter urging leaders of both parties to end the uncertainty surrounding Dreamers, or those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and those with temporary protected status (TPS).

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The two Nebraska chamber leaders cited a recent study indicating that immigrants make significant contributions to the state’s economy.

The study by the New American Economy, a bipartisan New York-based organization advocating for change in immigration policy, estimated that there are some 150,000 immigrants living in Nebraska, spending $2.9 billion annually. They also pay almost $1 billion in taxes, $344 million of which goes to state and local government.

“Dreamers and TPS holders here in Nebraska are major contributors to our economic success,” Birdsall said. “Congress must act to allow these hardworking individuals to remain in our communities, to everyone’s benefit.”

Iowa chambers that signed on to the letter included those in Des Moines, Ames and Cedar Rapids.

DACA, created in 2012 by President Barack Obama, protects more than 1 million immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. TPS dates back decades and involves immigrants from 10 countries who came here legally because of unsafe conditions in their home countries.

President Donald Trump has moved to end the legal protections for both groups, but immigration officials have been blocked by courts from deporting them.

Bills to end the uncertainty generally have bipartisan support and are heavily backed in public opinion polling, but they have been locked up for years by the gridlock in Washington. One proposal may come up for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives as early as next week.

Thursday’s letter came out of a recent meeting in Los Angeles of national chamber officials to discuss the importance of immigrant workers to the nation’s economy. There were representatives of some 20 Chambers of Commerce from across the country, including Bianca Harley, the Omaha chamber’s manager of community diversity and inclusion.

The ultimate signers came from both red and blue states, from Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Tennessee to California, Oregon and Massachusetts.

Addressed to leaders from both parties, the letter noted that the U.S. economy, from agriculture to manufacturing, relies on a diverse, talented workforce. That includes some 1.25 million Dreamers and another 318,000 immigrants who are in the country under TPS. Without action by Congress, they could ultimately face deportation, even after decades spent building lives in the U.S.

“These immigrants are driving economic growth in our communities,” the letter said. “With national unemployment at near-record lows, this is a scenario we simply cannot afford.”

The chambers called on Congress to address DACA and TPS and to “lay the groundwork for the type of broader, commonsense immigration reforms that we need to compete globally.”

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Reporter - Metro News

Henry is a general assignment reporter, but his specialty is deep dives into state issues and public policy. He's also into the numbers behind a story, yet to meet a spreadsheet he didn't like. Follow him on Twitter @HenryCordes. Phone: 402-444-1130.

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