Immigration reform in the US is morally and economically sound

The staunchest supporter and strongest opponent of immigration reform would agree on one thing — it’s been a banner year for this issue by any standard.

We’ve seen progress and inaction, bipartisan cooperation and fervent disagreement.

The Senate and the House started considering immigration reform from different starting points and working through separate legislative processes, as is emblematic of the two different bodies of Congress. Both chambers began their work with the shared goal of producing the best possible outcome for the American people.

Beyond convening a conference committee, which only takes place to negotiate a small fraction of bills before they are signed into law, we have many legislative options to apply to comprehensive or piecemeal bills. There are several bills that could potentially come up for a vote in the coming months.

Given the general and widespread dissatisfaction with our current immigration system, I can say with sincerity that the House has the will to address immigration reform simply because it is the right thing to do. Moral issues such as this one — with united faith-community advocacy — tend to gradually persuade members to cross the partisan divide and bring consensus where there once was only disagreement.

As I have said in many crowds, often to nods of agreement from people of all points of view, we as Americans would never consider deporting a group of almost 12 million people. To do so would be akin to deporting the entire state of Ohio. It is unconscionable, unrealistic and impossible.

As a Californian, I understand the concern of many in my party that allowing a pathway forward for those who are currently undocumented would result in an eventual transference of political votes and support to the Democratic Party. They often cite California as an example.

Yet in my district, the patriotic immigrants from Central and South America, Asia, Southeast Asia and many other parts of the world often have more in common with the conservative family values of Republicans than they do the liberal social politics of many Democrats. It is not a foregone conclusion that allowing currently undocumented immigrants to enter a long, arduous process to earn citizenship would result in their coloring the map blue.

In fact, my fellow Republicans and I deeply believe that the American values of hard work, rugged individualism, family values and economic freedom will imbue in immigrant communities seeking legalization a strong identification with the Republican Party: the party of immigrant activists in the Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, the periods of the last two serious efforts at immigration reform.

Conservatives are right to recoil from any plan that grants amnesty. Luckily, there is no plan being seriously considered by either chamber that offers amnesty. Instead, doing nothing will allow our current situation — de facto amnesty — to continue.

Instead of offering amnesty, the Senate bill proposed a framework by which current undocumented immigrants can begin a rigorous and punitive decades-long process of becoming legal permanent residents by undergoing background checks, paying fines and back taxes, waiting at the end of the line, taking civics tests and language exams and applying through the regular immigration pathways to get a green card. At the end of that process, the immigrant may choose to apply to become a citizen. Under that framework, the fastest path to citizenship would take at least 13 years to complete.

Much has been made of the economic stimulus and growth that would follow from immigration reform and the increased demand on private businesses and services from a newly legalized workforce. Since the House has committed to considering immigration reform legislation, a range of economic studies have undertaken efforts to model how many jobs will be created by allowing an influx of new workers. These workers, while receiving no public benefits, pay into the system through federal and state taxes and social security. On a worker-for-worker basis, each new worker forestalls the collapse of our Social Security system. The impending collapse is predicated upon the lack of youthful workers to replace the exit of the baby boomers from the labor force. Republicans should be with me in favor of offering a real solution to a huge, impending problem that will define the coming decades.

A study by American Action Network, which draws from a comprehensive Regional Economic Models Inc. study, as well as the Congressional Budget Office data, predicts that top-to-bottom reform will add an average of nearly 14,000 jobs per House district, with no district gaining fewer than 7,000 jobs. Those who believe that foreign workers will threaten American jobs are clinging to outdated economic theories. More workers create more demand, and a larger working force creates economic growth. Current American citizens and currently undocumented immigrants both stand to benefit from the economic and civic boon of reform.

I am far from the only member of my party to recognize that our system needs change. To reap the economic and social benefits that will follow top-to-bottom immigration reform, we must begin by passing legislation to address every aspect of immigration reform in the House. I will remain focused on that goal this year and next.

Denham has represented California’s 10th Congressional District since 2011. He sits on the Agriculture, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Veterans Affairs committees.