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Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Good for Business, Good for America


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, IBM, and many others. 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.


U.S. colleges and universities 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 acknowledgement 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.