Winston Churchill said, “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.” Indeed, few nations have been tested as much as the United States has. Yet, time after time, we always manage to rise to the occasion, sometimes after many false starts. It will be no different with immigration reform. We will do the right thing — and the sooner the better.
Although we are disappointed that Congress did not pass immigration reform so far this year, the business community and its coalition of partners are more determined than ever to fix our broken system. True immigration reform cannot be achieved through executive actions. We need a bipartisan legislative solution.
Reform is not only the right thing to do; it’s the necessary thing. It would help revitalize our economy by raising the gross domestic product, boosting productivity and attracting investment from around the world. It would spur innovation and entrepreneurship. It would create jobs for immigrant and native-born workers alike. And it would help us address our challenging demographic realities.
As we renew our push for a bipartisan solution in the new Congress, we will be reminding our elected leaders and all Americans of some simple truths about immigration reform.
Our current system is broken. It isn’t serving the needs of businesses and employees, state and local governments, the Border Patrol and other law enforcement, or religious institutions. It isn’t working for our economy and society. Employers are often unable to hire high-skilled foreign-born professional workers — even those who are educated in the United States. Why? Because hiring caps were set more than 20 years ago when our economy was one-third its current size.
Congress hasn’t allocated visas for a single temporary foreign worker to legally enter our country for lesser-skilled year-round jobs — even if a business can’t find sufficient numbers of qualified and interested Americans through rigorous local labor market recruitment.
On top of that, we don’t have a uniform national mandatory electronic employment verification system. Without one, the United States will remain a magnet for illegal immigration. More needs to be done to secure our borders, and a system in which more than 11 million undocumented immigrants are living and working in our communities in de facto amnesty is indefensible.
Welcoming immigrants is good for our economy and our society. Immigrants do not typically compete with Americans for jobs. The reality is that they create more jobs through entrepreneurship, economic activity and tax revenues. Immigrants complement U.S.-born workers and can help fill labor shortages across the skill spectrum and in key sectors. Immigrants also can help replenish the workforce as baby boomers retire, growing our tax base and raising the worker-to-retiree ratio, which is essential to support programs for the elderly and the less fortunate.
Support for reform has never been stronger. Proponents of common-sense immigration reform include lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, as well as labor, business, law enforcement, ethnic organizations, religious groups, and the high-tech industry. Most important, polls consistently show that the majority of voters believe that the status quo on immigration is unacceptable.
There will never be a perfect time for reform. The political landscape isn’t going to be any more conducive to reform in two years or four years. For too long, the can has been kicked down the road. And while we’ve failed to act, the problem has only grown worse. It is in our national interest to get immigration reform done.
We must reform our system so that we can reassert our competitiveness. For the United States to build a 21st century workforce in a global economy — and for businesses to have access to the employees they need to compete and succeed — we must welcome the world’s talent to our shores.
Immigration is a deeply emotional issue that ignites people’s passions. But there is virtually no dispute over the fact that our current system is broken. The arguments are over how to fix it, not whether to fix it. So let’s have that debate, resolve it and get to work.
The business community and its partners will continue to make the case for meaningful reform. We’re going to use every tool and resource at our disposal, and we’re going to keep pushing our leaders to do the right thing for our country. We know that immigration reform will ultimately get done — because it must get done.
• Thomas J. Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.