Immigration reform will provide certainty for restaurant industry and our economy

You should know that in addition to providing extraordinary opportunity, no industry reflects the diversity of this nation the way the restaurant industry does - 59 percent of first-line supervisors and managers are women, 18 percent are black or African American, 15 percent are Hispanic. Restaurants employ more minority managers than any other industry. We reach out to newcomers to America and offer them a viable way to achieve the American Dream of making a better life for their children, becoming a respected tax-paying member  of their community, and even owning their own business.

And we've been doing this for generations.

It’s a major reason why the National Restaurant Association, of which I am chairman this year, has long advocated for a sensible immigration policy. We’re actively promoting and supporting comprehensive immigration reform that will bring certainty to America’s workers and employers.

I know that the industry we serve is a better place, and a stronger contributor to the national economy, with the influx of immigrant employees. I immediately think of my friend, and fellow National Restaurant Association board member, Jaime Gonzalez - who became a U.S. citizen this year. Jaime has been in the hospitality business in America for nearly 20 years, and worked his way up to be president of a restaurant company. Recently he decided to go into business on his own and is now operating a restaurant near Atlanta. He’s a classic entrepreneur - creating jobs and providing opportunity for many.

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Another friend whom I admire is David Davoudpour - the highly innovative CEO/owner of Shoney's restaurants. David came to the U.S. as a young man, went to Ohio State University, and has achieved an amazing success. He’s been energizing a great American restaurant brand, growing restaurants and growing jobs. His efforts help our economy and make a real difference in communities wherever you find a Shoney’s restaurant.

People like David and Jaime are working at every level of the restaurant industry and every level of American life. It’s only through clear and well-defined immigration regulations that we can keep these hard-working and entrepreneurial individuals coming to our country.

Our “enforcement-only” approach isn’t working. The current system often targets otherwise law-abiding members of society who contribute to the U.S. economy and local communities.

And it’s overly complicated for employers to hire immigrants in many states. We haven’t had national-level immigration reform since the mid-1980s. In the ensuing years some state regulations have grown onerous and they vary dramatically from state to state. We are at the point where national reform is needed. Congress should override the patchwork of state and local immigration regulations that are currently out there.

What Congress really needs to do is to work as hard on achieving immigration reform as those of us in the restaurant industry work on making sure our operations succeed. And, like our industry, they need to understand that for their work to succeed, they must aim to serve the greater good, deliver on expectations, and improve the communities they represent.

On behalf of the National Restaurant Association and the nearly one million restaurant locations nationwide, we urge the House to follow the lead of the Senate, and move forward with immigration legislation when they return to Washington in September.

Hickey is chairman of the National Restaurant Association.