On June 27, 2013, it looked like immigration reform advocates finally had what we used to call in politics “the Big Mo.”
The Senate passed, on a broad bipartisan basis, comprehensive legislation that touched every aspect of the immigration debate, securing our borders and legal status for the 11 million undocumented, as well as ensuring visas for temporary workers in sectors ranging from software to construction. On that same day, the House Judiciary Committee passed a skilled worker bill that would more than double our antiquated H-1B visa cap; the U.S. currently turns away half of the talented individuals seeking to live in the U.S. and contribute to our economy.
Where are we on June 27, 2014, one year later? On a head-scratching road to nowhere, despite the clear and tangible economic benefits. For those reading the political tea leaves and concluding House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s loss means immigration reform is impossible, they ought to get their vision checked: polls by conservative and liberal groups in Cantor’s Virginia district confirm that immigration was not the reason for his loss.
Cantor ran a primary campaign based on his opposition to amnesty, not his support for it. And lest we forget, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina won his GOP primary in an absolute landslide despite being an original member of the Senate’s “gang of eight” immigration bill authors. And this is in a state that saw voters choose Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in 2012 by more than 10 percentage points.
But having served in public office, we understand the rough-and-tumble of partisan politics. Take Representative Bob Goodlatte, another Virginia Republican who has stuck his neck out and voiced some hard truths about our broken immigration policies. Last week Goodlatte, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, told Fox News Latino he was “ready to move now” on reform, while in the same interview calling it “increasingly unlikely” to happen in this Congress.
That’s a shame, because Chairman Goodlatte has done some excellent work on the subject, particularly in the area of highly skilled workers. The SKILLS Visa Act his committee passed a year ago today is a surefire way to address the twin problems we have in this country of lackluster economic growth and a “skills gap” preventing businesses from finding workers with the science and technology backgrounds they need.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Goodlatte’s skilled labor bill will increase the size of our labor force by one million, sparking increased demand for goods and services and supporting new jobs. The bill will generate more than $500 billion in tax revenue over the next 20 years as the economy grows and we have more workers paying taxes; that’s money that can be used to reduce a national debt burden that is weighing on our children and grandchildren.
And finally, the SKILLS Visa Act will not discriminate against certain employers who rely on foreign temporary workers for their information technology needs, correcting a major problem with the Senate bill. If the Senate bill’s anti-competitive fees and restrictions on “visa dependent” employers are not removed, U.S. businesses (including 480 out of the Fortune 500 companies) who contract out for their IT work will face reduced choices and higher costs, increasing the likelihood they will ship jobs overseas. A report economist Kevin Hassett conducted for the American Competitiveness Alliance, which analyzed the Senate bill with and without the arbitrary visa restrictions, projected economic growth will more than double over the next decade if these special interest riders are stripped from the bill.
Let’s not celebrate another dubious anniversary without passing immigration reform that addresses the border, undocumented immigrants, economic growth and ensures America’s place as the world’s most innovative and competitive nation to do business.
Bill Richardson is the former U.S. Energy secretary, governor of New Mexico and UN Ambassador. Rosario Marin served as the 41st treasurer of the United States. Richardson and Marin serve as co-chairs of the American Competitiveness Alliance.