I attended an immigration town hall in Mesa Tuesday with Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake hosted by The Arizona Republic and 12 News. Kudos to The Republic for hosting this educational event, which will air on Sunday after Meet the Press. Both senators thoughtfully made the case that immigration reform is a must and should be considered by the House of Representatives when Congress returns after Labor Day. That two Arizona senators are leading the call for reform speaks to the leadership of this state. Sen. Flake deserves special credit for having the guts to work on this issue even in his freshman year as a U.S. senator.
No one is expecting the House to take up the Senate bill in its current form. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia has indicated that his committee will deal with immigration in a step-by-step way, considering separately issues like visa reform, guest worker programs, border security and the fate of the Dreamers and others not here in a legal status.
By giving each individual issue the consideration it deserves, the House is poised to pass a good set of bills that can be reconciled with the Senate’s work.
The American people are ready for reform. Polls indicate overwhelming support in red states and blue ones for a package that will secure the border, tighten hiring practices and require undocumented migrants to meet a long list of requirements. Even on perhaps the most contentious issue, a pathway to citizenship, a Gallup poll earlier this summer found that a who pping 87 percent of respondents would support a law that allowed “illegal immigrants living in the U.S. the opportunity to become citizens after a long waiting period if they paid taxes and a penalty, pass a criminal background check, and learn English.”
The benefits are obvious. CBO has found that the Senate bill will reduce the deficit by $175 billion and boost the nation’s GDP while having no real downward pressure on wages. This is a good deal. Still, the Senate bill is not perfect and the House is determined to put its own stamp on this issue. Given that the last major bill was in 1986 and, if we’re being charitable, did not work as well as its authors had hoped, taking the scenic route this time around is prudent.
There are House members who are prepared to do the hard work passage of a package of bills will require. In my conversations with members of Arizona’s House delegation over the past several weeks, I’ve seen a real willingness not only to tackle immigration but to do so in a thoughtful way that will lead to a better final product.
There is fairly broad agreement on many of the key elements between the House and the Senate. Border security must be improved and fairly measured; our visa system needs to be revamped; we need to keep foreign-student STEM graduates in this country; more high-tech H-1B visa are necessary; those who came into the country as children should be treated differently than adults; and philosophically our entire system should be more like the vast majority of the industrialized world and more focused on labor needs than on family reunification.
How broken is our system? Canada with a population one-tenth of ours admits more high-tech visa workers than the U.S. That is nuts.
Yes, there are still serious differences over who should be eligible for a pathway to citizenship, the details of the visa program and how best to protect the border, but consensus can be had.
For example, legislation by the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Michael McCaul (R-Texas) seeks to take a strategic approach to border security by increasing the use of technology and relying on the insight of career security experts and border governors. Sen. McCain has long-stressed the need to deploy technology along our borders to aid interdiction efforts.
Sens. McCain and Flake have also argued that immigration reform makes sense for America’s economy and competitiveness. Here they have an ally in Rep. Paul Ryan, the GOP’s vice presidential candidate in 2012 and someone who has lots of credibility on economic issues within his caucus. His case for reform could bring some fence-sitting Republicans on board.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently hosted a conference call on immigration reform featuring Rep. Ryan. With hundreds of members listening in, he gave a pragmatic view of where things stand and spoke optimistically about the House’s willingness to take up the issue in coming months. “We want real reform that’s lasting,” Rep. Ryan said on the call. “We don’t want to be back here in 10 years having the same discussion, but we do want to reform our system so our nation will continue to be a melting pot.” He added that there is no specific deadline driving House action.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) sits on the House Judiciary Committee and has made a strong case for strengthening our ability to attract high tech talent to U.S. firms. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) is an immigration attorney and has been seeking commonsense solutions that balance our very real security needs with the needs of a competitive economy. And we can find agreement over properly staffing our ports of entry and deploying worker verification technology like E-Verify, a program that Arizona has already proven is a good solution.
The House has the talent to pass an excellent package of bills and members who recognize that the terribly broken system needs fixing. My prediction is that this fall the House and Senate will have each passed detailed bills that, through difficult negotiations, will be reconciled and submitted to the president by this Congress.
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry