Reforming Immigration for a Better America, Remarks by Thomas J. Donohue President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 8:00pm

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Immigration Summit

Washington, D.C.

Good morning everyone, and thank you for coming.

We are here today to address one of the compelling challenges of our time—ensuring that our great country can compete and win in the global race for talent … that we can secure the lives and livelihoods of all Americans … and that we can reaffirm our proud and honorable legacy as an open and welcoming society.

Immigration reform has been a top priority of the Chamber’s for years—and it is a deeply personal priority of mine.

We can take great encouragement in the fact that this time, so many groups and individuals from across society and across the political spectrum have joined forces to build support for reform.

But, we must take nothing for granted. Immigration is a difficult issue. It encompasses a complex bundle of impacts, interests, and emotions. We must respect all points of view in this important debate—even those that differ from our own. At the same time, we should have little patience for those who decide to prey on fear and misunderstanding—or those who put their own short-term political interests above the national interest.

The fact is that our current immigration system is broken. Everybody knows it. It’s not serving the interests of our economy, our businesses, our workers, or our collective security.

America cannot compete and win in a global economy without the world’s best talent, hardest workers, or biggest dreamers. We cannot sustain vital programs for the elderly and needy without more workers—both low skilled and high skilled—to grow our economy and tax base.

Our current system, quite frankly, isn’t cutting it. It has failed to fully secure our border. It has failed to keep us informed about just who is coming to our country and whether they leave when they are supposed to leave. It has failed to provide us with the workers we need and the skill levels we need to ensure a strong and growing economy. Gaps and shortages in our workforce put American jobs at risk—because if companies can’t find all the workers they need here, then they will be forced to move all the work where the workers are.

We can do better and we must do better. Immigration reform isn’t just a problem to be solved, it’s an opportunity to be seized.

Few understand this reality better than the bipartisan group of eight Senators—and we are honored to have two of them here today. Their bill has tough, practical measures to secure our borders while allowing people and commerce to flow efficiently and lawfully in and out of our country. It proposes a thoughtfully designed temporary worker program that would allow employers to use immigrant labor when U.S. workers are not readily available. It better ties visas to market demands. It helps ensure we don’t educate the best foreign talent in the world and then send it away.

It makes E-Verify a national employee verification system. It’s a system we can support as long as there is strong preemption language for state and local laws … no obligation to re-verify the entire current workforce for private employers, which would cost a fortune and take forever … and a safe harbor for good faith efforts by employers.

And the bill provides a path out of the shadows for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States today—with the understanding that they will meet strict conditions, such as paying civil penalties and back taxes and learning English.

There is no doubt that there will be additional input and analysis through Senate hearings and amendments. That’s how it should be. We support a transparent and open process and debate. Given the broad support this bill has garnered from business and labor … from conservatives and liberals … and from faith-based and civil groups, I’m optimistic that this time we have an excellent chance at getting immigration reform done.

As a vigorous national debate continues, let’s not forget who we are, or what this nation was built on—the dreams and hard work of those who came here seeking a better life.

This is a moment that cries out for principled, courageous leadership. Leadership that puts it all on the line to build a brighter and more hopeful future for our children and grandchildren.

We need this leadership on many serious issues—deficits, debt, entitlement reform, education, and national security, just to name a few. Let’s start with immigration reform. Let’s show the world that America still has the capacity to do great things.

I just returned from Europe where we were busy promoting a new jobs and growth trade pact between the United States and the European Union. We found and generated a lot of enthusiasm for that, but everywhere we went, Europeans also wanted to talk about immigration. There was a sense that if our country could get this done, it would cement our global leadership for years to come. America would be acting like America once again.

Thank you very much.