Attorney Scott Cooper speaks on Michigan and Immigration

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, swimming against a recent tide of anti-immigrant sentiment, has said that making Michigan more immigrant-friendly is one of his priorities. Scott Cooper is a partner and managing attorney at the Troy office of Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen and Loewy, a leading global immigration law firm.

He concentrates on employment-based immigration and immigration-related compliance for his clients. Cooper also works on employment-based immigration and immigration-related compliance for a broad range of clients from Fortune 100 companies, universities and national research, cultural and health care institutions to senior executives, professionals, entrepreneurs and investors.

Thorpe: Gov. Rick Snyder has made it a priority to attract and retain highly skilled and educated immigrants in Michigan. What measures can the governor unilaterally take to advance this initiative?

Cooper: There are a few things he could do. He can continue to have state agencies coordinate with and support the Global Michigan and Global Detroit initiatives, especially the Global Talent Retention Initiative. The GTRI has a modest three-year budget from the New Economy Initiative. Dedicating some state support would be helpful. He could also convey to the Michigan Congressional delegation the importance of this initiative and the data that clearly show how this is positive for the Michigan economy and for job creation. He could also veto any Arizona or Alabama-type legislation should it reach his desk since the data clearly shows that these types of provisions are affecting significant adverse economic impact. Let's not confuse illegal and legal immigration as immigration restrictionists seek to do. The press has sullied Michigan and Detroit enough and don't need another reason to do so. These types of laws discourage immigrants who are job creators from settling in restrictive states.

Thorpe: The governor contends that attracting more immigrants to Michigan would help the economy and create new jobs and businesses. Are there examples of states where this has already happened?

Cooper: A 2007 study indicated that 40 percent of Silicon Valley companies were started by immigrants. A number of cities such as Cleveland, Dayton and Philadelphia have enacted programs to attract immigrants. Gov. Snyder sees the wisdom of creating a statewide initiative. A recent study by the National Forum on American Policy determined that for companies with 5,000 or more workers, each foreign national high skilled temporary worker hired resulted in the creation of four more jobs for U.S. workers. For companies with less than 5,000 workers, seven new jobs were created for each such worker hired. Look at the Ann Arbor area where a combination of U-M spin offs and highly skilled immigrants are creating new high tech businesses. I was at a gathering of more than 80 international students at the U of M Center for Entrepreneurship two weeks ago where each of them had an idea for a new business or new technology. If Michigan waits to see more examples of states succeeding with this type of job creation, we will be a follower and not a leader.

Thorpe: Immigration laws have been the responsibility of the federal government. Why all this recent focus on the states?

Cooper: States, especially those near the southern border, are feeling the impact of years of failure by the federal government in enforcing the immigration laws. The federal strategy for enforcement at our border with Mexico, in effect, funneled border crossers into Arizona which explains SB1070. Congress has failed to effect comprehensive immigration reform. Immigration restrictionists have focused on seeking passage of state laws since Congress won't take it on. While Arizona might indeed have a problem, the numbers don't show other states having significant problems with the undocumented. That is probably also why those seeking to enact such laws in Michigan are not yet successful. It would be quite damaging for the Michigan economy, especially the agricultural sector.

Thorpe: Do you think that recent state immigration laws will survive challenges at the federal level?

Cooper: This Supreme Court will probably accord the states some leeway as they did with respect to Arizona's E-Verify requirement for all employers. Where the restriction involves some state licenses or permits or employment verification requirements, it will probably permit them. Expect to see some limits on law enforcement simply being able to randomly pull over or arrest individuals based on ''appearing'' to be illegal-- whatever that is.

Published: Mon, Mar 19, 2012