Various Arizona Chamber and business leaders have made numerous visits to Washington, D.C. over the years to push for reform of our nation’s badly broken immigration system. As a border state, we understand this issue well. For years, the business community in Arizona has been pressing Congress and the Administration for a secure border, workable visa and guest worker programs, nationwide employee verification programs such as E-Verify, and a way for those who did not enter the country legally but are now contributing to our state to get right with the law, especially those brought to this country as children. The failure of the federal government to act resulted in Arizona and many other states trying to do immigration reform on their own, resulting in a patchwork of policies nationwide.
But it is obvious today that all roads to reform lead through Washington, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Arizona v. U.S., which held that state attempts to regulate immigration were preempted by federal immigration law.
This past Tuesday, when a group of about 20 Arizona business, faith and law enforcement leaders visited with all nine of our U.S. House members, we were not alone. Over 600 leaders from over 40 states took to Capitol Hill to urge House Members, with a focus on the Republican majority, to support bringing legislation to the floor this year.
I had the privilege to address the gathering on Monday night at the opening reception to discuss why reform is so important and beneficial to our economy and security. Our country’s greatest comparative advantage is that the best, brightest and hardest workers from across the globe desire to work in our country.
Before we hit the Hill on Tuesday, we gathered at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to prepare. The U.S. Chamber and their Senior Vice President Randel Johnson have been the lead business organization on this entire reform effort. At the kickoff meeting we heard from conservative icon Grover Norquist, who made the free-market case for reform. Former Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Holtz-Eakin and Rebecca Tallent of the Bipartisan Policy Center remarked that all credible studies of reform point to significant economic and budgetary benefits. Fresno County (Calif.) Sheriff Margaret Mims made a compelling case for the increased security reform could bring. Faith leaders offered a humanitarian case for reform, and our delegation was joined by a number of pastors working in coordination with a coalition called Bibles, Badges and Business.
While in Washington, we had the good fortune to run into ASU President Michael Crow, who is a strong supporter of reform. Our universities would benefit enormously from federal action. As Arizona Board of Regents President Eileen Klein says, “Our ability to produce a highly-skilled workforce and thriving research enterprise that stimulate a growing, vibrant economy for Arizona will be strengthened by balanced immigration laws that promote access to education and economic opportunities.”
Our conversations with our House delegation were positive. While it is fair to say that there were differences in approach, all of our representatives agree that our nation’s immigration system is badly broken, and I believe that they all want to have a hand in getting it fixed.
While we are very proud and thankful for the hard and good work of our two U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, in crafting the Senate immigration proposal, it is clear that the House, as is its right, will draft its own plan and proceed with a series of bills as opposed to an omnibus. In fact, five different bills ranging from border security measures to efforts to fix some of our visa problems in the high-tech and agricultural sectors have passed two different House committees.
All agreed that we need to enhance our border security. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery offered some suggestions on changes that would allow for him to be more effective in assisting in border security. Nationwide use of E-Verify, a system already in wide use in Arizona due to the requirements of the Legal Arizona Workers Act, is another common area of support. And all agree on the need for visa reform, although there are some differences in scope. There may be an effort in the House to expand on the number of lower-skilled visas available as compared to the Senate bill.
The most difficult issue is how to deal with the 11 million who did not enter this country legally. There is growing support for some type of legalization, and even citizenship for the Dreamers, those individuals brought to the U.S. as children. But it is hard to imagine the citizenship language in the Senate bill passing in the House.
Although there are differences between the Senate and House, those differences are narrowing. But as one of our congressmen told our group, if the House is faced with making an all or nothing choice when considering the Senate legislation, the House will go with nothing.
Hard work will be required to get a package passed. This is not naming a post office. This could be the first significant immigration legislation to pass since 1986. This will take real leadership from Congress and the White House, where our president needs to channel his inner Bill Clinton and put on the charm on Capitol Hill.
Leadership from the business community will be required, too. If the House considers reform this year, job creators from across the country should welcome the opportunity to help broker a deal between the House, Senate and President Obama. We’re doing our part in Arizona, and we’ll keep at it until a deal gets done.
Postscript: I want to thank everyone who joined our team to urge Congress to pass an immigration reform package.
- Barry Broome, President and CEO, Greater Phoenix Economic Council
- Lea Marquez Peterson, President and CEO, Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
- Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney
- Jack Harris, former police chief, City of Phoenix
- Mary Ann Miller, President and CEO, Tempe Chamber of Commerce
- Chad Heinrich, Vice President of Public Policy and Economic Development, Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce
- Vice Mayor Tony Rivero, City of Peoria
- Steve Moore, President and CEO, Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau
- Pastor Gary Kinnaman
- Pastor Bob Hake, Orangewood Church, Phoenix
- Pastor Dan Steffen, Pure Heart Christian Fellowship, Glendale
- Nan and Dick Walden, Farmers Investment Co., Sahuarita, Ariz.
- Russell Johnson, President and CEO, Merchants Information Solutions, Inc.
- Adam Estle, Bibles, Badges and Business
- Brett Hunt, Bibles, Badges and Business
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry.