Moving past the immigration impasse in a bipartisan way
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America's presidential primaries and the recent Brexit signal a troubling tendency towards isolationism and a heightened anti-immigrant rhetoric fueled by fears of demographic diversity, terrorist threats and middle class concerns about globalization's impact on their livelihoods.

The immigration national debate – or debacle, as many of us prefer to call it – has now lasted over a decade while both parties have had, at times, clear majorities and a President of their persuasion in the White House.

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In other words, both sides have had their opportunity to pass meaningful immigration reform and have not been up to the task. The battle lines have been drawn so firmly that an atmosphere of political hopelessness reigns, and nothing is accomplished.

Consider the consequences of this inaction: Illegal immigration has more than doubled in the past 10 years, needed labor skills have not been available, our baby boomer population is retiring and, consequently, our labor pool is shrinking and aging. Our entitlement programs are at unacceptable actuarial risk levels and millions are living in the shadows with all of the predictable consequences realized.

I have been a member of respected bipartisan task forces charged with drafting consensus proposals. After much spirited debate amongst men and women from vastly different political sides and conflicting philosophical views, we have summoned a sense of purpose, put aside our political differences and reached a compromised solution that all of us could live with.

We should expect no less from our elected leaders.

In my work with No Labels, a bipartisan organization, we have poll-tested policy ideas to address these national issues seemingly without solutions. We have found that there is a way to satisfy both Republicans and Democrats while creating common sense solutions with majority support.

One of the challenges in this undertaking is helping citizens understand why immigration reform is essential to the future health and wealth of the United States. Social Security’s trustees have estimated that immigration reform – by bringing in an influx of younger workers to support America’s aging population – could improve the program’s finances by $4.6 trillion over 75 years. When people learned this information in a recent national survey conducted by No Labels and Cohen Research Group, 70% of those polled – both Republicans and Democrats – said they were more likely to support immigration reform with the twin goals of decreasing illegal immigration and increasing legal immigration.

Smart immigration reform enables the nation to address waning skill sets in the national workforce – a recent Manpower survey found 32% of employers had difficulty filling job vacancies particularly in science, technology, engineering and math-focused (STEM) occupations. Expanding the H1-B visa program for high-skilled foreign workers and the guest worker visa program will address this worker-shortage crisis both in high-skill occupations as well as agriculture sectors, fulfilling a need – legally – while paying into the entitlement pot.

These systems, naturally, need verification. This would require a mandatory tracking policy that uses updated technology to monitor expired visas. Combine updated visa tracking with a pathway to earned legal status for illegal immigrants in the U.S. who meet strict conditions such as learning English, paying back taxes and passing rigorous background checks, and our nation has an immigration reform policy beneficial to both American employers and retired American workers. A win-win. 

Each of the above suggestions has been poll tested and enjoys majority bipartisan support. Americans want to solve these problems. And the truth is, there is a way to do it that satisfies – in part or in full – all parties.

The era of immigration patchwork is over. The president's unilateral efforts were deemed unconstitutional by the courts, while the highest court remains deadlocked. Rather than continue the revolving blame game, both branches need to come together and negotiate a solution. Too much remains at stake.

While No Labels will continue to proffer solutions and serve as a politically neutral convener for a growing group of members of Congress committed to solving national challenges, including comprehensive immigration reform, it is critical that other voices in the media, academia and the general public rise with a passionate outcry: enough is enough. Convene, debate, compromise and solve.


Al Cardenas is a partner at Squire Patton Boggs and vice-chair of No Labels. He previously served as the chairman of the Florida Republican Party.