One year ago today, the Senate took action to address one of the most pressing issues of our time: fixing a badly broken immigration system. In the year since then, House Republicans have failed to follow suit, leaving millions of undocumented immigrants in legal limbo and ignoring the broad support such reform has among Americans, the business community, labor, economists, faith leaders, and many others.
America is unique among the nations of the world. Walk down any street in any city, and the people you see may have their origins in dozens of countries. In our homes, we speak hundreds of languages and dialects. We worship in different ways and teach our children different stories from world history. But, in spite of all these differences, we share a common future and a common purpose as fellow Americans.
There is no question -- and, in fact, there is wide agreement -- that our immigration system is broken. Millions living in our country are living in the shadows, undocumented, without the protection of our labor laws or the responsibility of paying taxes. They are pursuing that same desire to work hard and build a better life, but they live in fear of deportation and separation from their loved ones. Millions of others are stuck in endless waits for visas that would enable them to come here and help build the nation they already love from afar.
Some of America's greatest innovators and business pioneers came to this country from overseas or were the children of immigrant parents, including founders of Google, Intel, Apple, Boeing, and IBM. Many of the game-changing American innovators of the 21st century haven't arrived yet, denied the visas they need to come to our country and make use of their talents. Others are here gaining important skills, but current immigration policies prevent them from putting those skills to use growing our economy and creating jobs.
Colleges and universities throughout the United States graduate thousands of foreign students each year, including many in the high-demand fields of science, technology, engineering, and math -- or "STEM" -- who want to remain and join our workforce. Instead, many are sent home, taking their talents and innovative energies with them. Central to the business community's support for comprehensive immigration reform, including the strong push to help pass last year's bipartisan reform bill in the Senate, is the acknowledgment that we are failing to retain many of the talented workers and innovators we already train here. Raising the number of H-1B visas for skilled foreign workers must be part of any comprehensive immigration reform legislation.
It is imperative that Congress enact comprehensive immigration reform -- and do so this year. A diverse array of faith communities, civil rights groups, and law enforcement organizations have all expressed their support for comprehensive reform that helps bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and secures our borders. So too have many of our nation's leading businesses and industry groups. The advantages to repairing our broken immigration system are not only humanitarian but economic as well.
A steady stream of immigration has been the forge on which our nation has been tempered, strengthening our economy and way of life with each new generation born and arriving on our shores. Tired, poor, and huddled masses became the laborers, innovators, and entrepreneurs of a thriving middle class. The common bond between the millions who came here has always been a desire for economic advancement through hard work. And American businesses were ready to put them to work in jobs that opened doors of opportunity.
Today, American businesses are ready to put the next generation of immigrants to work, and many of our nation's top business leaders have come out strongly in support of comprehensive immigration reform. The economic benefits are many, as President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donohue, made clear this past February. "Immigrants do not typically compete with Americans for jobs," he wrote, "and, in fact, create more jobs through entrepreneurship, economic activity and tax revenues. Immigrants serve as a complement to U.S.-born workers and can help fill labor shortages across the skill spectrum and in key sectors."
Placing undocumented immigrants who have demonstrated a commitment to our nation and all it represents on a pathway to citizenship, is an investment in a stronger economy and a more fiscally sustainable future. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that enacting comprehensive immigration reform would reduce the deficit by $900 billion over the next twenty years. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, such reform would also boost productivity by a percentage point in that same period and raise our gross domestic product by as much as 4.8 percent. Immigrants are nearly 50 percent more likely to launch new businesses than those born here, and fixing our immigration system would, according to a report by the Business Roundtable, lead to an increase in both employment and wages.
House Democrats, joined by three Republicans, have put forward a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill, H.R. 15, similar to the Senate's. It deserves a vote, and it would pass. There is no reason why the House cannot act right away.
America has always been made stronger -- economically, democratically, and as a world leader -- by welcoming new citizens and allowing them to lend us their talents, their energy, and their new ideas. That's how we succeeded in the 20th century -- and it is the recipe for success in the 21st century as well.
Break the Immigration Impasse
Sheldon Adelson, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates on Immigration Reform
American citizens are paying 535 people to take care of the legislative needs of the country. We are getting shortchanged. Here’s an example: On June 10, an incumbent congressman in Virginia lost a primary election in which his opponent garnered only 36,105 votes. Immediately, many Washington legislators threw up their hands and declared that this one event would produce paralysis in the U. S. Congress for at least five months. In particular, they are telling us that immigration reform — long overdue — is now hopeless.
Americans deserve better than this.
The three of us vary in our politics and would differ also in our preferences about the details of an immigration reform bill. But we could without doubt come together to draft a bill acceptable to each of us. We hope that fact holds a lesson: You don’t have to agree on everything in order to cooperate on matters about which you are reasonably close to agreement. It’s time that this brand of thinking finds its way to Washington.
Most Americans believe that our country has a clear and present interest in enacting immigration legislation that is both humane to immigrants living here and a contribution to the well-being of our citizens. Reaching these goals is possible. Our present policy, however, fails badly on both counts.
We believe it borders on insanity to train intelligent and motivated people in our universities — often subsidizing their education — and then to deport them when they graduate. Many of these people, of course, want to return to their home country — and that’s fine. But for those who wish to stay and work in computer science or technology, fields badly in need of their services, let’s roll out the welcome mat.
A “talented graduate” reform was included in a bill that the Senate approved last year by a 68-to-32 vote. It would remove the worldwide cap on the number of visas that could be awarded to legal immigrants who had earned a graduate degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics from an accredited institution of higher education in the United States, provided they had an offer of employment. The bill also included a sensible plan that would have allowed illegal residents to obtain citizenship, though only after they had earned the right to do so.
Americans are a forgiving and generous people, and who among us is not happy that their forebears — whatever their motivation or means of entry — made it to our soil?
For the future, the United States should take every step to ensure that every prospective immigrant follows all rules and that people breaking these rules, including any facilitators, are severely punished. No one wants a replay of the present mess.
We also believe that America’s self-interest should be reflected in our immigration policy. For example, the EB-5 “immigrant investor program,” created by Congress in 1990, was intended to allow a limited number of foreigners with financial resources or unique abilities to move to our country, bringing with them substantial and enduring purchasing power. Reports of fraud have surfaced with this program, and we believe it should be reformed to prevent abuse but also expanded to become more effective. People willing to invest in America and create jobs deserve the opportunity to do so.
Their citizenship could be provisional — dependent, for example, on their making investments of a certain size in new businesses or homes. Expanded investments of that kind would help us jolt the demand side of our economy. These immigrants would impose minimal social costs on the United States, compared with the resources they would contribute. New citizens like these would make hefty deposits in our economy, not withdrawals.
Whatever the precise provisions of a law, it’s time for the House to draft and pass a bill that reflects both our country’s humanity and its self-interest. Differences with the Senate should be hammered out by members of a conference committee, committed to a deal.
A Congress that does nothing about these problems is extending an irrational policy by default; that is, if lawmakers don’t act to change it, it stays the way it is, irrational. The current stalemate — in which greater pride is attached to thwarting the opposition than to advancing the nation’s interests — is depressing to most Americans and virtually all of its business managers. The impasse certainly depresses the three of us.
Signs of a more productive attitude in Washington — which passage of a well-designed immigration bill would provide — might well lift spirits and thereby stimulate the economy. It’s time for 535 of America’s citizens to remember what they owe to the 318 million who employ them.