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National Restaurant Association - White House, labor experts optimistic about immigration

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White House, labor experts optimistic about immigration

Reforming U.S. immigration laws is a top priority of the Obama Administration right now, a White House adviser told operators at the National Restaurant Association’s recent Public Affairs Conference.

“This is something we’ve been talking about for a very long time,” said Sam Brown, director of the White House Business Council, at a breakout session on immigration reform during the conference. “There is no single item, frankly, in my opinion or in the Administration’s opinion that can do more to boost the economy than a comprehensive act to reform our immigration system.”

See more photos from this year's Public Affairs Conference

Brown said immigration reform now has “the broadest coalition support I’ve ever seen,” he said. “You have faith, law enforcement, business, labor, the chamber of commerce, the restaurant association digging into this. This is something it seems everyone I’ve talked to wants to have happen.”

Brown called the current U.S. immigration system “broken” and “out of date.” He noted that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that reforming the U.S. immigration system would reduce the deficit by $1 trillion and add $800 billion to the gross domestic product over 10 years.

He said the White House believes the next two months offer the best chance to move immigration forward before politicians get too wrapped up in elections, and encouraged conference attendees to make the case for why this legislation is so important to their businesses and employees.

“The business case for why this makes sense for all of your bottom lines and for the country’s bottom line is just too strong,” he said. He said President Obama strongly supported the immigration bill the Senate passed last year. “We are thrilled with the Senate’s bill; we think it is great. It is comprehensive and goes so far in the right direction we would sign it today and be done.”

He said the White House is hopeful that the House can move forward with measures too – whether as separate, smaller pieces of legislation or as a comprehensive plan.

During the breakout session, San Antonio restaurateur Louis Barrios told Brown that without a legal status component in the law, the industry’s workforce could be jeopardized.

“We’re concerned other industries could pirate our [kitchen] employees,” Barrios said. “They are the heart of a restaurant. In baseball you have the pitcher/catcher relationship. That is called the ‘battery’. In the restaurant industry, you have the guy who prepares the plates and the expediter. That’s the battery of a restaurant. If you take out the battery, you can’t play the game.”

Tamar Jacoby, president of Immigration Works USA, which is working with the National Restaurant Association in its efforts to get comprehensive immigration reform passed, said she believes legislation can pass this year.

 “We have powerful members [of Congress] who are now behind reform,” Jacoby said. “People are emerging – [lawmakers] who have never before expressed their support for reform – who are popping out of the woodwork on a day-to-day basis. We’re seeing this new surge of people say, ‘Wait a minute. If we wait until next year we may not get it done and we have to get this done for the sake of the country and the economy.’

“We’re on the 10-yard line.”

Pictured top right, from left: The Obama Administration's Sam Brown and the National Restaurant Association's Angelo Amador discuss immigration reform

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