Guest Columns

WASDEN: WASHINGTON HAS FAILED TO LEAD ON THIS ISSUE

Enforcement of current laws is the centerpiece to any immigration reform

GUEST COLUMNIST

America is a nation built of immigrants and governed by the rule of law. But currently, our broken immigration system is completely failing at enforcing our existing laws, at securing our nation’s borders, and at providing a usable guest worker program that meets the needs of American businesses. Reform is long overdue! We need to enact an immigration solution that will strengthen our borders and national security, while getting the skilled and necessary workforce to the very companies that want to grow their businesses and stay competitive in a growing global economy.

I have studied immigration reform from a variety of facets. Recently I flew to Washington D.C. to attend the Business, Bibles and Badges Immigration Fly-In. I have also been a part of several roundtable discussions and taken part in multiple meetings with our own congressional delegation, as well as conversations with congressional delegates from other states. One thing is very clear to me — our current immigration system is in disarray and it is hurting the very businesses that want to invest and grow. The time for a sensible, workable immigration plan for this country is long overdue. While most people agree there is a fiscal impact, such as taxes paid by immigrants versus the costs born by government and citizens, the effects on the business community have a far deeper ripple effect. I wholeheartedly believe that we need to strengthen our borders, as it is crucial to know who is in our nation and stop the flow to an illegal workforce. The single action of border security cannot be taken in isolation however; it must be done in conjunction with fixing our guest worker program that is just as broken as our border security.

Innovation, creativity, and a highly trained workforce are the basic tenets for economic development. The H-1B visa caps for 2015 were opened April 1, and within days, the 65,000 and 20,000 caps were filled and businesses that needed the highly skilled, highly trained workforce will be forced to do without. With this week’s announcement that the economy grew at 0.1 percent does nothing more than handcuff our business community. This makes little sense. There are fields in high demand (STEM related) whose workforce needs are not being met. We need to give these companies the workers, tools, and a regulatory environment that allows our nation to lead the world in innovation, technology, and research.

“There are system-wide deficiencies that are stunting growth, but can be fixed by action in Washington,” said Greg Brown, chairman and CEO of Motorola Solutions and the chair of the National Business Roundtable, Select Immigration Committee. The Pew Hispanic Research Center estimates five percent of our workforce is not authorized to work legally in this country, and most studies estimate that 11 million people currently reside in this country illegally. Once we have a secure border and a guest worker program that addresses the needs of the business community, we need to protect the job offerings for American citizens who desire employment through an employment verification system that is both mandated and properly implemented across our entire country.

Once in place, an employment verification system would not only need to be accurate, it would need to protect the businesses that utilize the system in good faith. Strong penalties would need to be issued for those that skirt or circumvent the process of ensuring a legal, verified, documented workforce.

When we have our borders secured, a functioning guest worker program, and an employment verification system in place, we need to enforce our current immigration laws. Enforcement of current laws is centerpiece to any immigration reform. Congressman Ted Yoho of Florida believes that, “Washington has failed to lead on this issue for the past 30 years. It is time we address it. I am more than willing to work on immigration reform as soon as we start enforcing our nation’s laws, and securing our borders to protect our national security.” Yoho, who is a strong conservative, understands the impasse and yet is willing to address reform, as long as it follows a plan that supports the laws that protect our nation.

I recently met with U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, who understands the importance of reforming our immigration system, but who also wants to see it done correctly. He agrees that border security must be coupled with changes to our current guest worker program. He also is conservative and yet is willing to tackle this issue because it impacts his constituents, families and businesses alike.

When I hear several of our nation’s strong conservative leaders understand our immigration needs and are willing to enact a sensible, pragmatic plan, it gives me hope. Immigration should not be used as a political wedge or a counter measure for other issues. It should be a real topic of political discussion that respects human life, people’s innate desire to be productive, and one that ensures our national security interests.

Once these tenets of immigration reform are in place, we can then turn to the 11 million people residing in our country illegally and approach the situation within the rules of law. I agree with Gardner when he said that most of the people he talks to do not want a path to citizenship but to legalization. That is an important distinction. These illegal immigrants want to come out of the shadows, they want to pay their fair share so they can support and take care of their families and do so knowing that they can travel back and forth to their country of origin freely and without reprisal.

I also believe that effective reform needs to include a premium on the use of the English language and should include a penalty or fine for breaking our nation’s laws. We must also ensure that those who continue to seek asylum illegally do not usurp the rights of individuals who follow the proper channels seeking citizenship. Citizenship is something that we cherish here in the U.S. It should be valued and attained by following the basic premise that we are a nation of laws and only grant this right to those who follow the rules and procedures.

The Business Roundtable’s, Taking Action on Immigration, Realistic Solutions for Fixing a Broken System, sums up our immigration reform needs: “The time has come for realistic immigration solutions that will both strengthen national security and boost economic growth. America needs an immigration system that places more resources toward enforcement of laws, produces a more dynamic and skilled labor force, and enables U.S. businesses and workers to compete more effectively in the global marketplace. Getting reform right is essential to a healthier economy — accelerating growth, encouraging hiring and creating jobs.”

Jeff Wasden is the executive director of The Colorado Business Roundtable and vice chair of public affairs for the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce.