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Oral Congressional Testimony

Wednesday, May 25, 2005 - 8:00pm


By Thomas J. Donohue
President & CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

U.S. Capitol
May 26, 2005

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Subcommittee, good afternoon.

I'm Tom Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Thank you for inviting me here to speak on an issue of critical importance to the future well-being of this country-immigration reform.

I last testified on this topic before Congress on September 7, 2001. At that time, you'll recall that our nation was moving toward major reform.

Presidents Bush and Vicente Fox appeared headed toward a framework for a mutually beneficial immigration policy.

Just four days after I testified, the tragedy of September 11th occurred, and the nation understandably focused all of its attention on security. Immigration reform fell by the wayside.

But, nearly four years later, the need for immigration reform is greater than ever. Our immigration system is broken-and will stay broken until we fix it.

Immigration reform legislation must include three components.

First, it must address-through some type of targeted earned adjustment-the status of undocumented workers who are already here working, paying taxes, and contributing to our economy.

Some like to use the word "amnesty." We don't support amnesty.

We support legislation that would provide a step-by-step process in which an undocumented worker could qualify for permanent legal status by:

Paying a civil penalty for entering the United States illegally; demonstrating a substantial length of time in the workforce; and, completing a program that requires continuous work, a clean criminal record, and progress in English proficiency.

I know that some people are uncomfortable with providing these workers with legal status. But the alternative solutions are indefensible.

We are not going to adopt a massive deportation program. That would be neither feasible nor desirable.

Our economy would grind to a halt if we tried to round up and deport the estimated eight to ten million undocumented workers living in this country.

Maintaining the status quo is equally wrong. A shadow society of undocumented workers and a booming fraudulent documents industry protect criminals and terrorists and make it easier to exploit immigrant workers.

Creating a pathway to earned legal status in this country would rightfully recognize those upon whom our economy depends and would enable law enforcement officials to focus their resources on criminals and threats to our security rather than on cooks, janitors, and caretakers.

Second, immigration reform should allow employers to hire foreign workers under a temporary worker system-after employers have attempted to find U.S. workers.

Such a temporary worker program is absolutely essential for addressing the current and future worker shortage that is the result of an expanding economy, a declining working age population, and the impending retirement of much of our workforce.

The demographic realities of our aging workforce have been discussed at length in the context of Social Security reform, and they are equally applicable here.

My written testimony reviews much of the demographic data and projected job growth in many low-skilled categories.

Rather than get into the data now, I'll repeat a line from one workforce expert, who says that "the most inescapable challenge facing the American workforce in the coming 20 years is that, barring substantial change, we will not have enough people to fill it."

Improving productivity, recruiting non-traditional employees such as the disabled, luring retirees out of retirement, and creating incentives for people to work longer are all part of the solution to the worker shortage crisis.

But we won't close the gap unless we make it easier for immigrants to fill jobs in the United States-especially jobs that Americans are not interested in taking.

We depend on immigrants to work as cab drivers, construction workers, food preparers, custodians, hospital workers, landscapers and groundskeepers, and caretakers of our children, the sick, and the elderly.

A sizeable chunk of our economy consists of these types of jobs. Nearly 40% of U.S. jobs require only short-term, on-the-job training. Over the next 10 years, the greatest job growth will occur in occupations that require little or no formal education and training.

Of course, these are projections, and projections are not always certain. But it remains clear that we need some type of workable program to allow U.S. employers to utilize immigrant labor-with appropriate safeguards-when U.S. workers are not available. The time to create that program is now.

Finally, we recognize that stronger enforcement of our immigration and border security laws is a necessary part of the package, and rightfully so.

We have all seen the recent press reports on the volunteer, civilian border-watchers stationed along the Arizona-Mexican border.

However you feel about these actions, they are a clear indication that severe problems along our borders-which affect our quality of life and our security-exist and must be resolved.

We support the screening of foreign workers and vigilant border patrolling by federal officials. At the same time, we are certain that immigration reform would greatly alleviate the strain on border security resources because fewer immigrants would feel the need to enter our country illegally.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Subcommittee, immigration reform is a win all the way around:

U.S. businesses get much-needed workers; we enhance security by gaining more information about who is living within our borders and entering our country; and, undocumented immigrants become a recognized part of our economy, with the option of returning home to their families with cash in hand or, possibly, making a new life for themselves in this country.

Obviously, many details need to be worked out, and I don't pretend to have all the answers to the many questions that will arise. But I do know that doing nothing is not acceptable public policy.

The Chamber, as a leader of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, will continue to push for a sensible, workable immigration policyÂ…one that will enable continued economic growth, prosperity, and security in the United States.

We should not, and cannot, afford to waste another historic opportunity to adapt our immigration system to the challenge and opportunities of the 21st century.

Thank you. I'd be happy to take your questions.