Truman National Security Project

On Immigration, Washington Finally Finds Some Common Sense

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The Texas Legislature is telling Congress it’s time to improve immigration. Both Republicans and Democrats, in the state House and Senate, from Brownsville to Houston, Fort Worth to San Antonio, have sponsored legislation supporting comprehensive immigration reform and urging Congress to pass national legislation introduced last month. Their bills are moving forward out of committee, alongside other pieces of bipartisan legislation intended to band-aid problems at the state level caused by the failed federal system.

Why the rare, bipartisan unanimity? Because America’s broken immigration rules hurt America — and not just American immigrants.

Want America’s economy to grow again? Forty percent of America’s Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants. Immigrants founded nearly half of our top 50 venture-backed startups. And immigrant inventors played a role in over ¾ of the patents awarded in 2011 at America’s top research universities.

By definition, immigrants are people willing to take risks — leaving everything they know behind to come to a new country. It’s no wonder that entrepreneurial spirit creates jobs for all Americans.

What about reducing crime? Right now, more than 11 million people fear reporting crimes because they could get deported. That means gangs, narco-traffickers and common criminals get away with murder, literally. The Texas Legislature has a bipartisan bill that would enable crime victims and witnesses to report crimes without fear of having their papers checked. But state level patches can’t cover all the holes — immigration, by definition, crosses state borders.

America’s immigration system is a frayed patchwork of overregulation and incoherent policies. Polling this spring by the Small Business Majority found that 88 percent of small business owners believe the system is broken — and 84 percent of entrepreneurs (86 percent of them Republicans) support Congress’ bipartisan plan.

The bill, forged by four Republican and four Democratic senators, is a series of smart compromises that favor jobs and security. For instance: current policy ignores economics, instead giving preference (and 75 percent of all visas) to those lucky enough to be family members of immigrants already here. This bill would switch to a merit-based system that privileges job-creators and those who have the skills and education our country needs.

Despite such common sense, the bill is drawing fire from both sides of the aisle. That suggests it’s doing something right.

The left argues that the legislation will reduce wages and let outsiders take American jobs. But a compromise between the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce does exactly the opposite. It ensures that newcomers must be paid the same minimum wage and provided with the same workplace safety requirements as all Americans. Employers can no longer exploit immigrants to underpay workers.

On the right, legislators are swamping the bill with amendments on security and citizenship. Most of these are political ploys to kill reform — not honest attempts to make it better.

The current bill requires the toughest border security measures in U.S. history. But even more southwest border guards and watchtowers won’t buy us additional security. More than 40 percent of those here illegally came on legitimate visas and overstayed — a problem border-strengthening doesn’t address. The Sept. 11 bombers came in through airports, the failed millennium bomber came in from Canada, the Boston marathon bombers were here legally. For real security, we need to invest in intelligence, law enforcement and visa processing for all our airports, seaports, and borders — steps the bill takes.

Meanwhile, the biggest security need is to know who is in this country. That means the bill must provide a legal means for the 11 million already here and living in the shadows to come forward. The path is deliberately rough — aspiring Americans must spend ten years in provisional status, then go to the back of the line, apply properly, pay fines and taxes, pass background checks, and prove they are employed and speak English. That’s hard work, not amnesty.

It takes guts to leave everything and everyone you know and start over, from nothing. And yet that is what nearly every immigrant who comes to America does. That work ethic has kept America the most innovative, strongest country on earth for generations. The United States was built by attracting the best and brightest from around the world, giving them a place to thrive, and turning them into Americans. That’s what this bill will do for our country again. It’s time to bring it to a vote.

Rachel Kleinfeld is the President and Co-Founder of the Truman National Security Project. This article originally appeared in the Austin American-Statesman.