Bipartisan immigration reform is possible and crucial

As former members of the House of the Representatives from different parties, we know how difficult it is to forge consensus on complicated, contentious policy issues. But that is nothing compared to the difficulty immigrant families face trying to make sense out of our current systems, or businesses and law enforcement trying to ensure compliance. 

Some have suggested that immigration reform is an issue where consensus can’t be reached.  We disagree. For one thing, the status quo isn’t working – for immigrants, employers or the economy. And after months of bipartisan debate, numerous hearings in both chambers of Congress and a historic Senate vote, meaningful immigration reform has never been closer to becoming law. Our political leaders have an opportunity to take strong, decisive action on a defining issue of our time, one that truly gets at the heart of our history as a nation of immigrants and a land of opportunity.

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An unprecedented coalition of supporters from across the political spectrum have come together: business, farmers, labor, faith leaders, women’s groups, among others - united and committed to reform. The need for smart, effective immigration reform even has Grover Norquist and George Bush on the same page as Democrats like Bill Clinton and Richard Trumka. Why are they aligned on this issue? Because they know reform makes sense – politically, socially, and morally. And perhaps clearest of all, immigration reform is good for growing our economy and shrinking our budget deficit. 

Our economy would get a significant fiscal boost if the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. had a real path to legalization and citizenship. And reforming our legal immigration system will promote entrepreneurship, facilitate access to global talent, and enhance the nation’s economic competitiveness.

Economists and the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates have found that implementation of the Senate bill would grow the economy: GDP would increase by more than $800 billion in the first decade alone, earnings for workers would increase by $470 million, and job creation would increase by 121,000 jobs per year. In our state of Virginia alone, immigration reform would add $16.3 billion to the economy over a decade, raise $670 million in new tax revenue, and create 2,400 jobs each year. These are jobs spread throughout the economy, from agricultural workers and home care providers to engineers and technology experts.

Passing reform will also mean progress on deficit reduction, reducing it by $135 billion in the first decade and $685 billion in the second 10 years after enactment. In recent years, most of our political debates understandably centered on discussion of how we fix the economy and return to prosperity. Immigration reform offers a wonderful opportunity to do just that – we can help the economy as we strengthen our communities, improve conditions for working people and bring millions of workers out of a shadow economy.

Although the two of us disagree on the Senate bill, the framework it lays out would help us realize these gains, and as we wait for action from the House, we are losing valuable revenue. Based on CBO estimates, we are forfeiting $37 million each day that passes without final passage of the Senate bill. That’s more than $5 billion so far in lost revenue that could be fueling our economic renewal. Instead, we watch and wait for a vote on an issue that has overwhelming support from the American people, was endorsed by a bipartisan supermajority in the Senate, and could become a legislative reality if debate and voting were moving forward in the House.

We’ve seen robust debates in both chambers that prioritize our security as a nation while preserving our legacy as a place of opportunity. So far members of Congress have shown real leadership on this issue, caucusing to draw up one unified bill in the Senate, and passing 5 bills out of committee in the House. Not all agree on the House bills already in motion, but they’ve already done the heavy lifting to draw up legislation – we need the House to vote so we can iron out these differences in conference and move ahead on areas of agreement.

Congress must take the final steps in what has been a productive, positive process. Waiting to pass reform means losing revenue and job growth, more separated families and destabilized communities, and exacerbating a problem decades in the making. Our leaders have taken bold action to address a complex, important issue head-on. Now it’s time for them to finish the job.

As veterans of House politics, we know the political divide has rarely been deeper. But with enormous human and economic stakes and an alignment of political interests, immigration reform is one problem that Congress can resolve now. So much of today’s political environment is centered on nasty attack ads and endless fundraising. This can be the kind of accomplishment that makes all the politics worth it.

Davis represented Virginia's 11th Congressional District from 1995 to 2008, and is currently director of Government Relations at Deloitte, LLP. Perriello represented Virginia's 5th Congressional District from 2009 to 2011 and is currently president & CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund and counselor to the Center for American Progress