In point of fact, we have been meeting with many leaders on Capitol Hill over the past several weeks about this issue, and I am optimistic because thoughtful and serious remedies are being put forward to address this problem. While of course we have not met everyone in Congress, we have certainly met with enough folks on both sides of the Hill – including leaders from both parties – to get a sense of their emerging consensus. Make no mistake, immigration reform is coming, and it is coming quickly.
However, I caution that while there most certainly is a consensus as to the need to fix the problem of immigration, the exact blueprint for a final solution is very much still an evolving process. We are aware that the “devil is in the details.” Not every issue is resolved, including whether this process will be ultimately settled in one comprehensive bill – as the Senate outline suggests - or a series of smaller measures that ultimately add up to comprehensive reform. I will say that while these and other issues remain outstanding, I am convinced that people of good will are working through them thoughtfully, and with an eye on the rule of law, justice, and pragmatism.
Our group has been urging our leaders to look at the big picture, with an eye toward the future. Our position is that there exists in this debate a moral imperative to address this issue firmly yet fairly, and to resolve any differences through open dialogue and with open minds. Therefore, we are stressing the need to present legislation that has been vetted through what is known as “regular order,” in which the proper committees will have a full chance to weigh into this debate with an open, (within reason), amendment process, and with the benefit of full and reasoned hearings on all aspects of this legislation.
It is our contention that both Democrats and Republicans want to see this issue resolved not only for the undocumented that are currently here, but so that we do not have to address this issue again several years from now. Furthermore, we must find solutions that address the future flow of immigrants that will allow our nation to prosper long into the future. After all, the best recipe for addressing our nation’s financial woes is for robust future economic prosperity. We must grow our way out of our budget crisis because spending cuts – while important – will not get us to a balanced budget without addition revenue, and we believe that this additional revenue should come through economic growth as opposed to more and higher taxes.
A study that was recently done by Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, a respected economics professor from U.C.L.A., suggests that the legalization of our undocumented population would result in $1.5 trillion dollars in additional GDP over the next 10 years. I think that he is actually understating the numbers. I think the impact will be bigger.
I started my business in California in 1982, 4 years before President Reagan signed the last immigration overhaul in 1986. I lived through the financial impact of his economic policies, including his immigration solutions that included the legalization of some 3,000,000 people. There is no doubt in my mind that the Reagan economic model put in place policies that enabled President Clinton to balance our nation’s budget 10 years after his immigration bill was signed. The impact of his legislation on my state cannot be understated. There was robust growth in many financial sectors of our economy that were directly attributable to the legalization of the undocumented population. His policies fueled the additional revenue that helped to create a government surplus of revenue - something that would be extremely helpful to our nation as we head into the 21st century.
The American Exceptionalism model is built on the foundation of American Capitalism. This model relies in large measure upon a simple formula; ambition plus opportunity equals success. There is no doubt that many of the undocumented immigrants that came here, came with the ambition to pursue opportunity and the American Dream. However, without any real avenue toward opportunity, they have encountered a wall that prohibits them from fulfilling the chance to see how far their wits and ambition would allow them to prosper. We must, to paraphrase President Reagan, “tear down that wall.”
Furthermore, as we have been meeting with members of Congress, we have been respectfully suggesting that while the opportunity to legalize the status of the undocumented goes most of the way toward solving the problem of having 11,000,000 people - and their citizen or legal resident family members - living in the shadows of society, it falls short of the ultimate remedy of allowing for a long, rigorous, yet attainable opportunity for them to complete their American Dream, and to take the solemn oath of allegiance to the United States and become citizens. The Senate blueprint calls for this opportunity, and we therefore applaud them for their leadership on this important element of the debate. We view the taking of this oath seriously, and note that immigrants must swear, in part, upon the same language that we demand of our members of Congress, “…that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”
It is our belief that it is in the best long term interests of both these prospective citizens, and for our nation, to allow the folks that can qualify - and are willing to admit that they broke the law, are willing to pay some form of restitution to get right with the law, and to jump through whatever hoops Congress determines constitutes an earned pathway – to have an opportunity to eventually become United States citizens.
However, at the end of the day, we will wait to see how Congress seeks to ultimately address these issues, and how they determine to be what is in the best long term interests of the United States, as they seek to find a lasting solution that fixes our broken immigration system. We urge our leaders to perform this legislative process openly and transparently, allowing all members of Congress – pro and con – to weigh into this debate. We are confident that while this process might prove to be somewhat messy, and perhaps heated, we feel that America’s interests, and true justice for all, will best be served though regular order. We trust that at the end of the day, our legislative system will work, if people of good will seek solutions that are in the best interests of America.
In closing, it is our wish to see both parties ultimately put forward immigration reform legislation that is balanced and just. Neither side in this debate has a monopoly on good ideas. This legislation will be most effective if it is representative of input from both parties. Speaking as a conservative, I have heard many conservative members articulate reasoned and patriotic concepts that would strike a much needed balanced between the rule of law, and the moral imperatives that are inherent in our makeup as Americans. I encourage my conservative friends to articulate their perspectives as this debate progresses. The final product will only be effective if it is representative and inclusive of input from both sides of our nation's ideological spectrum.
Gittelson is president of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.