Immigration must be high priority when Congress returns to Washington

There are currently 11 million undocumented immigrants living in our country.  Logistically speaking, deportation is impossible, but even if it were plausible, reasonable people agree doing so would inflict more harm than good.  Many of those living in this country illegally are vital to the well-being of our economy.

America is the land of opportunity, and as such we should ensure our arguments and judgments always reflect that reality.  We can, and must, do better than what we are doing now.   The immigration process is plagued with bureaucracy, making it difficult for even the most talented and educated individuals to settle in the United States to contribute their smarts, brawn, and dollars to our economy.  Many of our country’s greatest companies, like Google, have been built from the ground up by immigrants.  That is what makes our country strong!  More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by first or second generation Americans.  We can’t fail to attract job creators to the United States.  The fact is, America can’t afford to lose its global competitive advantage.

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It is for this very reason that groups across the political spectrum, ranging from the tech industry to farm bureaus, as varied as the Chambers of Commerce and the Service Employees International Union, have coalesced in support of immigration reform.  This diverse, and often divergent, group is not typically known for working together, however they all understand how important this issue is to our country and have been aggressively pushing legislators to pass meaningful reform.

These groups worked together and the U.S. Senate listened.  The U.S. Senate recently passed bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform, which is now headed to the U.S House of Representatives.  If enacted, the legislation would create a pathway to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants, establish a new visa program for low skilled workers on America farms, provide visas for high skilled workers and increase border security measures.

While quite a lot of work remains in the U.S. House, not all hope is lost.  Many House members have indicated that they are willing to pass immigration reform through piecemeal legislation.  Under such a scenario, the House would pass a series of separate laws to strengthen border security, allow “dreamers” who came to the America as children to become citizens, and possibly give a probationary temporary status for the undocumented immigrants, who pass a background check and pay taxes.

It makes sound economic sense for the Congress to pass all the aforementioned measures.  Doing nothing is not an option, as ignoring the 11 million undocumented immigrants is a de facto form of amnesty without the benefits of tax receipts.  It is time that Congress finally addresses the issue at hand and create a pathway to citizenship for those who are willing to positively contribute to our country.

America faces an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent coupled with skyrocketing deficits.  We are at a pivotal juncture – some would call it a “major inflection point” – in our history where our elected officials can either work together and pass meaningful legislation, like immigration reform, or allow our country to continue down a road that is fraught with uncertainty and greater economic distress.

The American story has many pages written, and many more to be written. Let us all look towards the bright future.

Ortiz is a Republican strategist, principal at Crane and Crane Consulting, and an adviser on public policy and regulations for a D.C.-based law firm.