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Given the amount of attention the issue has received in this election cycle, it’s impossible to overlook the dysfunction in our nation’s immigration system. The backlogs for people who are waiting patiently to become permanent residents of the United States are unthinkable, with certain folks being forced to wait for decades to move through the system. Meanwhile, our employment-based immigration system and temporary worker programs aren’t equipped to help us meet market demands, which needlessly limits innovation, economic growth, and job creation. And last, but certainly not least, we have millions of people in the country who are not authorized to be here, many of whom have been living in this country for more than a decade.
Simply put, something has to give. Reforms are desperately needed, and our success solving these challenges will depend on your ability to work with members on both sides of the aisle in Congress to enact meaningful, commonsense reforms to our nation’s immigration system.
There are four key issues that need to be addressed in any serious reform effort or efforts. First, and foremost, we need to ensure that our nation is safe and secure. Our immigration laws fall short when it comes to promoting respect for the rule of law and meeting our homeland security needs. There are many ways to improve the security across our borders, as well as at our ports of entry. Moreover, 40% of the unauthorized population came here legally but have overstayed their visas – if reform efforts are to be meaningful, that issue needs to be addressed as well. While the need to address these issues is urgent, policymakers must avoid taking actions that will unreasonably hinder legitimate travel and trade.
Second, the legal immigration system must be modernized in a manner that works for the current U.S. economy – not the economy of decades past. Employers of all sorts need an orderly, controlled avenue to hire workers of all skill levels when they cannot find Americans to fill job openings. This will markedly reduce the incentives for future illegal immigration and unauthorized employment. More importantly, reforming our immigration system so as to make it more responsive to market demands will help spur job creation and economic growth, two things that our nation desperately needs more of today.
Third, the job magnet of unauthorized employment needs to be addressed through an updated employment verification system. The current system for employment verification, which was fashioned three decades ago, simply does not serve our national interests because it is ineffective at preventing unauthorized employment in the U.S. The Chamber has expressed support for a uniform nationwide expansion of the E-Verify system as part of other reform efforts, which would go a long way to reducing unauthorized employment. However, that system, or any other new technology for employment verification that Congress may prefer to use in the future, has to be workable for employers of all sizes and in all industries. If it is not workable, the job magnet will continue in existence and illegal immigration will remain the same prevalent problem that it is today – which is unacceptable.
That brings us to the final critical pillar of immigration reform: solving the problem of the 11 million people living in the U.S. without authorization, 7 million of which are currently in the U.S. workforce. Tolerating those who enter or remain in this country in violation of our laws cannot continue to be a prominent feature of the U.S. immigration system in the future. At the same time, removing an entire group of people from the country that, in population terms, is roughly the size of Ohio, is impractical. If the U.S. is ever going to ensure that it has a stable workforce without millions of unauthorized workers, we need to have a tough but fair process with strict eligibility criteria that gives otherwise law-abiding individuals an opportunity to earn a legal status in the United States.
In doing so, what we must not overlook is that, to make such a program truly fair to everyone and to give it a chance to pass both houses of Congress, the interests of individuals who are eligible for this form of relief must be balanced not only with the interests of our nation and our fellow citizens, but also the interests of the millions of people who chose to follow the rules when they immigrated to the U.S. The mere appearance that those who broke the law would gain an advantage in any way over those that followed the law will be fatal to any reform effort.
None of these changes will come easy. Meaningful immigration reforms have been evasive for a long time, and the legislative process can be very messy, but the process by which lawmakers move forward on a bill or several bills is nowhere near as important as obtaining concrete results. With this in mind, we hope you understand that true presidential leadership will be necessary in order to get commonsense immigration reforms moving again in Washington and ultimately signed into law.
Do not sit on the sidelines and watch Congress bicker and babble – you must be the steady hand on the tiller that keeps the ship moving toward its destination. You’ll also need to do your part to help referee the combating interests in the congressional debate, so that a truly lasting deal can be made that resets our immigration policies in ways that serve our national interest. You’ll need to work with Congress, and at times, you may even have to compromise with your usual political opponents and have the fortitude to reassure your allies that this “give-and-take” is necessary to enact truly meaningful changes.
Most importantly, the country will look to you to lead a meaningful and ongoing conversation with the American people, so that we all fully understand the complexities surrounding these challenges as well as the rationale behind the necessary policy solutions.
Success in this area will have a lasting impact on your legacy, as you will have met the challenge where others before you have come up short. More importantly, it will have a lasting, positive impact on our country’s economic growth and national security. We stand ready to work with you to get this done.