Immigrant Heritage Month should spur congressional action to fix immigration laws


June is Immigrant Heritage Month.

The occasion offers an opportunity not only to remember our own families’ immigration stories, but also to celebrate how immigrants contribute to our shared future.

Our history is full of examples of immigrants making positive contributions to our country. They include people like Levi Strauss, a German immigrant who created jeans, and James Naismith, a Canadian immigrant who is credited with inventing basketball.

More contemporary examples include Sergey Brin, a Soviet immigrant who co-founded Google, and Steve Jobs, son of a Syrian refugee, who co-founded Apple and helped invent the iPhone.

In short, immigrants expand shared opportunity and innovation for all.

Unfortunately, our current immigration system is severely outdated, wholly unfair and ineffective at meeting even some basic needs. We need an immigration process that is welcoming to those who wish to come and contribute, and prioritizes the growing needs of America’s robust economy, while maintaining security and compassion.

When American businesses cannot connect with potential employees whose critical skills are needed, and who are willing to move to the U.S., we all lose out. The same is true when we educate immigrants at some of our country’s most prestigious colleges and universities, then force many of them to leave the U.S. and take their skills and talents elsewhere.

In a recent Rose Garden ceremony, President Donald Trump unveiled a plan to improve our country’s immigration laws. The plan is far from perfect, but it does provide lawmakers with a starting point.

Republicans and Democrats should seize the opportunity without delay. Various polls have found strong support for immigrants currently living in the country, as well as welcoming new immigrants who seek freedom and the opportunity to realize their own American dream.

Unfortunately, under the president’s plan, immigrating to this country would become increasingly difficult for many. Immigrants would have to meet stringent requirements, including having high levels of education, a plan to create jobs and an offer of employment.

That is not how the president will encourage the diverse workforce we need to come here “in the largest numbers ever,” as Trump said earlier this year. Nor would the plan relieve pressure on the U.S.-Mexico border by expanding legal avenues for immigration of economic migrants of various skill levels. 

At a time when U.S. employers are reporting an eye-popping 7.5 million job openings and the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported fewer than one unemployed worker per open job for a full year, the president’s plan would make it difficult to issue employment visas more flexibly and responsive to market demands. 

Policymakers should not close the door on future success stories and the invaluable contributions of immigrants from all skill and education levels.

A good place to start is by extending permanent protections to Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders and Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. at an early age, who are at risk of being deported. According to the American Action Forum, Dreamers granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) contribute nearly $42 billion to our GDP every year. The same research found that removing them would cost $7 billion to $21 billion. 

Americans are right to want to protect people who are already contributing so much. A CBS News poll last year found overwhelming support for protecting Dreamers from deportation, including allowing them to stay in the U.S. permanently after meeting certain requirements, such as being gainfully employed or attending school.

Recently, our groups — The LIBRE Initiative and National Immigration Forum—joined forces with an ideologically diverse coalition in front of the U.S. Capitol and demanded that lawmakers act on a plan that provides protection and permanency for the Dreamer population.

Two Republican congressmen, Will Hurd (Texas) and Dan Newhouse (Washington), spoke at the event, and their support for Dreamers was clear. They and their colleagues in both parties should recognize the opportunity to come to the table and negotiate as lawmakers move Dreamer legislation in the coming weeks.

These same lawmakers should welcome the president’s interest in passing immigration legislation during this Congress. Instead of rejecting the plan outright, as some have, lawmakers should see this for what it is: an opportunity to discuss, negotiate, debate and ultimately send a bill to the president’s desk that he can sign into law.

Here’s hoping the history books will remember this Immigrant Heritage Month as being the month when lawmakers finally got to work to improve our country’s immigration system.

Daniel Garza is president of the LIBRE Initiative. He can be found on Twitter at @danielggarza. Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum, author of “There Goes the Neighborhood” and host of the podcast “Only in America.” He can be found on Twitter at @anoorani.

Tags DACA Dan Newhouse Donald Trump Immigration reform Will Hurd

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