Top-to-bottom immigration reform would grow our economy and create jobs, reduce the debt, make our country safer, energize American innovation and competitiveness, and tame illegal immigration. It’s overwhelmingly supported by a majority of Americans from across the political spectrum.
The Senate has already passed its bipartisan immigration reform bill. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, that bill would grow our economy by 3.3 percent and reduce the federal deficit by $200 billion over the next decade. And yet, the Republican-controlled House continues to sit by on the sidelines. It isn’t from a lack of support. I believe a majority in the House support immigration reform — we could pass the Senate bill, or we could pass our own bill.
For nearly five years I was part of a bipartisan group of representatives who met to reach bipartisan immigration reform solutions. We succeeded in crafting legislation that was practical and could be supported by both Republicans and Democrats, but it never saw the light of day.
It certainly isn’t because Americans across the country rose up in protest to cry “Stop!” In fact, a recent CNN poll found support has increased with more than 8 out of 10 people favoring comprehensive immigration reform — including 72 percent of self-identified Republicans.
Within the past few weeks, House Republicans laid out broad principles for immigration reform. It gave encouragement to many of us that there might still be an opportunity to move forward on a bipartisan basis.
But just as quickly, Speaker John A. Boehner and others retreated and attempted to shift blame for their inaction by questioning whether the president would enforce any new immigration laws. That’s a poor excuse when you consider this administration has removed more than 2 million people in the past five years — more than President George W. Bush removed during his entire eight years in office.
The House of Representatives operates under majority rule, and therefore, it’s the Republicans who control the agenda. Until Republicans choose to act, our country will be held back by a dysfunctional immigration system that has failed us for years.
I see that dysfunction when I’m home in Silicon Valley and I meet a promising entrepreneur working to grow a startup and create jobs, but they’re told they cannot stay in our country. The same is true for highly skilled graduates from our leading universities who want to contribute to our global competitiveness, but are instead forced to leave and compete against us.
And on farms across the country, the skilled hands of nearly 2 million hardworking people harvest the fruits and vegetables we eat. Few Americans sign on for these migrant farm worker jobs, but our current system only provides 5,000 permanent resident visas a year for “unskilled” labor, so farmers and farm workers are forced to go around the system.
Meanwhile, millions are forced to live in the shadows, where they are exploited and victimized. And for families caught in the middle of a broken immigration system, the human toll is horrific as families are torn apart — separating wives from their husbands and children from their parents.
What needs to be done is not that complicated: Immigration reform needs smart border enforcement, an employment visa system that meets U.S. business needs while respecting the rights of American workers, and a family system to keep families together. We need an enforceable system that works so future immigrants go through it, rather than around it. And we need a way for the 11 million undocumented immigrants to come forward out from the shadows, get right with the law and fully contribute to our society.
That same CNN poll found strong support on this last point, with 60 percent of self-identified Republicans opposed to the idea of barring undocumented immigrants from a path to citizenship. That’s because what makes America unique is that people come here, assimilate and contribute as Americans with all of the rights and responsibilities that citizenship bestows.
In the process, we benefit from the optimism, entrepreneurship, risk taking and desire for a better life that immigrants bring to our shores. That has helped forge our nation’s remarkable history of ingenuity and success. With immigration reform, it can be the winning formula for the future.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California is the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Control.