Comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with our values and greatness

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This debate arouses great passion, but if we step back for a moment it becomes apparent that moving forward in a comprehensive way makes sense along economic, national security and humanitarian lines. I am encouraged by developments in both chambers as bi-partisan groups of lawmakers earnestly work towards eventual legislation which will bring forth enhanced border security, a fair set of fines and back taxes and eventually earned citizenship for those that are successful at jumping a common set of hurdles.

At last week’s House Committee on the Judiciary hearing on immigration reform, I challenged my colleagues that believe we can address this matter in anything less than a comprehensive manner. What makes us think we will come back and do the heaviest lifting on this issue if we only do the small stuff when a majority of Americans agree it is time to act? Will this debate get any easier? Will we continue to throw money at a broken system that disrupts families and costs the taxpayer billions for investigations, incarcerations and deportations? A piecemeal approach only puts small band-aids on a massive problem that impacts millions. Let us live up to the magnitude of this moment and act in a bold way that will improve our economy while welcoming those willing to sacrifice so much to join us as neighbors and fellow citizens.

Those that hide behind arguments calling for full border security or a piecemeal approach that only emphasizes high-skilled workers are simply trying to impede momentum on this discussion we have been having  for a generation. Our border is more secure than ever, with this administration setting records for enforcement, deporting an average of 390,170 people a year and spending more on immigration enforcement efforts than on all other law enforcement agency budgets combined. And, while I am open to increased high skilled worker immigration, we must remember that our universities- like Tulane or Xavier in my district- also churn out many talented young people with unique math and science skills. A comprehensive approach that provides a path to earned citizenship for those that are currently undocumented could add $1.5 trillion to the U.S. economy, increase revenues to reduce our deficits and unleash increased economic growth as 11 million new citizens spend and invest along-side the rest of America.

In 1883, when Emma Lazarus wrote the The New Colossus, the poem from which those immortal lines were taken, she was moved by the treatment of new European immigrants in New York City. They lived in horrid conditions in the City’s tenements and were often the focus of scorn, mistreatment and sometimes violence in New York’s still divided melting pot.

Today, the descendants of those maligned immigrants are fully integrated into the fabric of our society, and have proven to be an asset to this nation’s growth and its rich cultural diversity. They have become captains of industry, world class athletes, teachers, firemen and police officers. They have started families of their own, and raised children who believe in the limitless possibility of tomorrow, all because they were born here in America.

130 years after Emma Lazarus gave us those immortal words, we live, love and work side by side with those descended from the much maligned immigrants of the 19th century. Imagine what our country would be like if we shut our doors to those immigrants then. Where would we be as a country? Let us take a long and sober look at this complex issue to find common ground and move forward. We should not do it just because it makes economic sense, or because we need to score political points. We should do it because it is the right thing to do.


Richmond represents the 2nd Congressional District of Louisiana and serves on the House Committee on the Judiciary.