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Panel discusses effects of immigration on state, business

by Thomas Chiappetta - October 2, 2006

Connecticut is at the center of a new immigrant explosion that will have a significant social, political, and cultural impact, according to Mark Overmyer-Velazquez.

Overmyer-Velazquez, an assistant professor of history and a 2006-07 fellow of UConn's Humanities Institute, made his remarks to an audience of business owners during a panel hosted by the University's Center for Globalization and Commerce at the Stamford Campus on Sept. 20.

The discussion, presented by the Connecticut Business& Industry Association, focused on how to deal with the intricacies of this new wave of migrant employees.

Drawing on his extensive research, Overmyer-Velazquez said there was a significant increase in the number of immigrants - particularly those from Latin America - coming to Connecticut during the decade from 1990 to 2000.

The number of Mexicans and Central Americans coming to the Nutmeg State was up 310 percent   during that time.

He predicted that by 2010, the largest ethnic group from Florida to Maine will be Mexicans, with New England having the fastest growth rate, and Connecticut topping the area's Mexican influx.

As a result, he said, the Mexican population will affect the social, political, and cultural landscape of the state.

Overmyer-Velazquez said the impact is already being felt: Despite language barriers, and economic and health care issues, Mexican immigrants constitute an increasing share of the labor force and are making a growing contribution to the state economy.

He urged businesses, educational groups, and others to recognize that they have "an important stake in the Latinization of our state."

He said it is important that the state embrace and better understand this rapidly growing segment of the population: "It's vital that all sectors build educational and business relationships in ways that foster cross-cultural understanding."

Other panel members, from McCarter & English, a Stamford-based law firm that specializes in immigration compliance issues, emphasized the complicated and ever-changing legal process.

They said bringing foreign-born employees to the state requires attention to many details, including visa applications, and verification of legally-authorized workers.

The panel also discussed other immigration issues that business owners in Connecticut need to be aware of, such as the effects of federal efforts to limit border access and tighten security at the Mexican gateway.

These may alter immigration patterns and the recruitment of foreign-born employees, they said.

In addition, the legal status of many migrant workers continues to be undocumented, spurring federal intervention through the Department of Homeland Security.

The department has expanded efforts to target employers of illegal aliens, panel members said.

The UConn Center for Globalization and Commerce is an academic research center designed to enable faculty and students to engage in research and scholarship related to global and international issues in all academic disciplines, with an emphasis on business and commerce.

The Center is a partnership with the Stamford Chamber of Commerce.

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