Congress must pass immigration reform to ease America's labor shortage

Congress must pass immigration reform to ease America's labor shortage
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I was 16 years old and my brother was 12 in 1961 when our parents put us on a secret nighttime flight from Cuba to Miami. They said someone would meet us at the Miami airport, but when we arrived, no one was there. Thankfully, a woman named Rosa offered to take us home.

That act of humanity was the first step in my life in America. I worked two and three jobs — cleaning toilets, picking tomatoes, whatever it took for my brother and me to survive. I also kept the promise I had made to my mother to attend college and went on to earn a Ph.D. in economics. I recently retired from a long career as the president of Miami Dade College, the nation’s largest and most diverse degree-granting public institution of higher education. 

My story is very much the American story. It is the story that is unfolding for immigrants across our nation who only want the chance to work hard, get a good education and create a better future for their children. These families have lived in fear for too long. Thirty-five years have gone by since Congress last passed far-reaching immigration reform.

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Congress should move quickly to pass immigration solutions that include pathways to citizenship for “Dreamers,” Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, farmworkers and essential workers who are crucial to America’s economy. Employers need workers and workers need dignity.

As an economist, I know that the business case for immigration reform is extremely strong. The proposal before the House and Senate would grow our Gross Domestic Product, drive job growth and raise the wage floor for American workers. If Congress creates pathways to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS recipients, farmworkers and essential workers, economic activity will increase by $121 billion annually, according to a recent analysis. This stunning figure includes an added $31 billion per year in federal, state and local tax revenues

The need for legislative action is urgent. Our economy has 10.1 million job openings. More than three million of those openings are in the South. Providing legal status for undocumented immigrants would help ease our nation’s labor shortage.  

The U.S. Senate has already passed a budget, which includes pathways to citizenship. In coming weeks, both chambers are expected to vote to carry out the immigration solutions through a process known as reconciliation, which allows a bill to pass with a simple majority.

Bipartisan groups such as the American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC), of which I am a member, would have preferred to pass a bipartisan bill, but that was not possible. 

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The reconciliation bill represents the best opportunity in decades to provide legal status to Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers and essential workers who have become Americans in every way except for paperwork.

Only a minority of hardliners are satisfied with the status quo. Voters from both parties and all parts of the country favor, by 69 percent, paths to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers and essential workers. 

Economics aside, creating pathways to citizenship is morally right. I have met hundreds of undocumented college students over five decades in teaching. Almost to a person, they are at the top of their class, excel in sports, the arts or other extracurriculars, and are the first to volunteer to help others. But these young Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants are not deserving of our support because of their excellence or work ethic; they are deserving simply because they are human beings.  

Immigrants and the employers that rely on them deserve immigration reform that would bring stability to their lives and businesses after years of legal purgatory. For our leaders in Washington, D.C., continuing to do nothing is unacceptable. The time for Congress to act is now. 

Eduardo J. Padrón is president emeritus of Miami Dade College, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a board member of the IMPAC Fund, the Florida chapter of the American Business Immigration Coalition.