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Immigrants are crucial to Tampa economy, local expert says

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Posted at 8:26 AM, Jul 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-17 08:30:53-04

TAMPA, Fla — Ten years ago, with a signature and a speech, former President Barack Obama gave certainty through an executive order to immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

“They are Americans in their heart, in their minds, in every single way but one — on paper," the former president said in 2012.

In 2017 that security became unclear and left dreamers with no path to citizenship.

“Essentially, nothing has changed, it’s still in effect, but nothing has been done to move forward with DACA," said Steve Maggi, the founder of SMA Lawfirm in St. Petersburg.

He said many people don’t realize how crucial immigrants are to the Tampa economy.

“Thirty percent of Tampa Bay businesses are owned by immigrants, but only 17% of Tampa Bay residents are immigrants, which means they’re highly entrepreneurial, and they’re creating hundreds of thousands of jobs with the businesses they set up," he said.

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He said many Fortune 500 companies in Florida are immigrant-owned or founded by kids of immigrants and include companies that are tech related in fields like aerospace, financial, and medical.

“They’re also innovators, and they’re creating jobs that wouldn’t exist otherwise," Maggi said. "Brand new technologies that wouldn’t have existed 10 years ago.”

But he believes that innovation is threatened by the lingering fear of deportation.

“The UK is the number one investor in Florida, you have someone from the UK who puts up a half a million to set up a start-up in the Tampa Bay area, but then they have difficulty getting a visa to actually develop and direct their business," Maggi said. "That’s what’s problematic.”

It's why he wants Congress to come together and pass a law that helps dreamers take steps to become green card holders and eventually citizens.

“Who are the immigrants that are most important? Well, they’re the ones that are filling the jobs that are not being filled otherwise like in Florida in agriculture, healthcare, construction, and commercial and residential cleaning," he said. "You’re talking about half of the workforce are immigrants. Those industries with literally shut down if immigrants were not occupying those positions.”

The “American Dream and Promise act" would provide a clear path to citizenship. It passed the house but must still pass the Senate and be signed into law by President Biden.