Published January 31, 2013
If you listened closely, President Barack Obama didn’t seem to propose anything irreconcilable in his immigration press conference from Las Vegas from what the Group of 8 senators proposed the day before. That is good news. He even seemed to leave himself some wiggle room for future compromise. But if anyone thinks immigration reform is inevitable, they better think again.
Americans pretty much agree that our current immigration law is broken. After all, there are an estimated 11 million people residing in America without the legal authority to do so. Additionally, we suffer from market inefficiencies, a dangerously porous border, split families and millions of kids unable to attend colleges and universities because of our protracted inaction on immigration reform.
So if everyone agrees we have a mess on our hands, what’s the problem?
In a nutshell, we disagree on how to resolve it. Moreover, Congress may lack the will to do so.
Maybe it’s because the issue is too emotionally charged and too complex. Politicians have deliberately staked out untenable positions solely for the purpose of scoring political points making a bi-partisanship agreement almost impossible to achieve. Democrats demand a massive, comprehensive bill – the kind you don’t know what’s in it until it’s passed - and Republicans demand it be done in smaller, manageable pieces (Temporary Worker Program, Dream Act, STEM Act, Border Security, etc.).
Consider also that a majority of Americans have quietly settled on the status quo, feeling no urgency to make changes. After all, we fully expect inexpensive housing construction, and our homes be kept immaculate by undocumented maids, we want our manicured lawns, pools cleaned, pets groomed, and roofs re-shingled by cheap and anonymous labor.
The protracted inaction has wrought much more damage than meets the eye. Many businesses – such as agricultural orchards, fields, dairy farms and construction companies – have become the equivalent of the speakeasies that thrived during the 1920s alcohol prohibition era. Labor agreements between employer and employees are simply done under the table, a shake of the hand or with a “wink-wink” sufficed.
Many point to the H-2A visa program as an untapped option to bring in farm workers, but the rules are onerous and burdensome. Farmers have to prove to the Labor Department that they tried to hire U.S. workers but were unsuccessful in recruiting willing workers. They have to provide transportation of guest workers from their home country, offer housing and provide three meals a day. Then somehow, they also have to show their guest workers won’t depress local wages.
The list of rules and conditions to remain in compliance goes on. Our immigration laws were not always that bureaucratic and arcane. They were simple rules that encouraged people to come here. The truth is, America’s growth depended equally on attracting low-skilled and high-skilled labor. It was the recipe that worked for America, that is, until recently, when severely restrictive immigration laws were passed to keep people out.
Where once America lifted its golden lamp to the tired and the poor, the huddle masses and the wretched refuse yearning to breath free, it now shuts its doors to them. Well, at least it has tried to.
What we need is an immigration policy that is smart, effective, and market based. That is, we must seek a system that remedies the issues I stated above and legalizes the relationship between the private sector and the individuals they need to hire in order for employers to make profit and allow them to generate the wealth and economic opportunities for their communities.
Further, our new immigration system must be more focused on recognizing the important characteristics that will help rebuild the American economy and strengthen American families. One that reduces backlogs in the family and employment visa categories so that future immigrants view our future legal immigration system as the exclusive means for entry into the United States.
To be more specific, for our nation to maintain its global competitive advantage and assure long-term economic growth, we must advance long-term, market-driven immigration reform consisting of four essential elements: employment-based program, passing a bill similar to the DREAM Act, raise limits on the STEM program and improved border security.
Smart immigration reform would lead to more American jobs, but red tape and bureaucracy is discouraging U.S.-educated foreign workers from living or starting businesses in this country. The Partnership for a New American Economy found that 40 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children, and even the president himself concluded that nearly a quarter of U.S. technology companies have an immigrant founder.
We need immigration reform that reinforces the American Dream by encouraging and enabling the best and the brightest, regardless of their nation of origin, to launch businesses right here in the United States, a kind of pro-growth policy that would ignite a more robust economic recovery, create jobs, and chart a course to a more prosperous future.
However the bill takes shape, leadership and bipartisanship will be the two essential virtues in this plight -rarely exhibited lately- necessary for it to pass muster. A tip of the hat to Senator Marco Rubio for stepping out on this one, it’s not easy to stand your ground in the face of such ardent opposition from your own. What is more, this time he got the better of President Obama by announcing his immigration plan first. A hard lesson he learned when the President pre-empted his own version of the Dream Act in last year’s election cycle.
Still, recent previous attempts to achieve immigration have been derailed as a result of political posturing on both sides of the aisle. And while the political timing seems ideal this time around, I've been around Washington too long to make any bets – action is inevitable.
This is where our voice comes in. Now is the time for Americans to express their desire for reform and let Congress know there will be more to lose than to gain if either side allows this opportunity for reform to pass us by.