Businesses show concern about immigration order

Published 9:58 am Friday, February 3, 2017

By Martin Moylan

Minnesota businesses are trying to figure out what President Donald Trump’s immigration order means for them. The order, signed late last week, aims to temporarily suspend immigration to the U.S. for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries.

With about 150,000 employees in 68 countries, agribusiness giant Cargill may have had the greatest chance of encountering trouble with the ban.

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The company has employees from some of the seven countries in the order, but would not say how many.

Cargill CEO David MacLennan said the order was a surprise but the company was “fortunate we didn’t have any employees from those named nations that were detained.”

Medtronic said a “limited number” of people were touched. The medical device maker is still assessing the overall impact.

Trump’s immigration order worries the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

Senior vice president Bill Blazar fears the Republican president’s move could keep the country from making progress on much-needed immigration reform.

“The president’s executive orders are a step backwards because of the emotion that they create around all of these issues,” Blazar said.

Some business leaders say Trump doesn’t yet appreciate the need to move forward prudently and predictably on immigration issues.

“My hope is that ultimately the president settles down,” said Charlie Weaver, executive director of the Minnesota Business Partnership. “I don’t think it’s unusual for a new president coming in and wanting to do a lot of things quickly. But things need to be predictable.”

Weaver, who led the creation of Minnesota’s Office of Homeland Security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said immigration is critical to workforces in Minnesota as well as nationally.

“We’ve got a labor shortage in the state. A lot of our industries are ag-related, who rely heavily on immigrants to do a lot of the work,” said Weaver, a former Republican state legislator. “Anything that makes it harder to get those immigrants to work in Minnesota is not a good thing.”

Margaret Anderson Kelliher, CEO of the Minnesota High Tech Association, and a former Democratic state legislator was concerned that the door could be closed to educated immigrants.

“We have a lot of Minnesota workers who are immigrants who also come here first on a green card and have a visa as students,” Anderson Kelliher said. “And that has contributed a lot of innovation to Minnesota’s economy, a lot of technology and science breakthroughs.”

As of 2015, about 11 percent of Minnesota’s workforce was foreign-born, up from 9 percent in 2010.

Cargill’s MacLennan said his company relies on fair and reliable immigration policies.

“As a global company we depend on a sound and consistent immigration policy for our labor,” MacLennan said. “So, we’re standing by to ensure that it respects the needs of companies but more importantly is respectful to all individuals, regardless of their background.”

The Associated Press and APM Reports’ Tom Scheck contributed to this report.