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Embrace the Promise of Immigration Reform


Moral reasons? Check.

Economic reasons? Check.

Practical reasons? Check.

These are just some of the reasons why political leaders in the United States need to enact immigration reform and stop dickering over the details.

That's not to say that there won't be complications to immigration reform, including strain on the governments and resources of border states where immigrant children go to school and families receive health care. Those can and should be addressed.

But xenophobia and punishment of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States are not legitimate reasons to oppose reform. On a practical level, the mind boggles at the 2010 estimate by the Center for American Progress of what it would cost to round up and deport an immigrant population that is roughly the size of the population of Ohio: $288 billion.

Probably not a good way to reduce the deficit.

The Supreme Court already has determined that being an undocumented worker — or the child of parents who entered the country without proper authorization or who overstayed a work visa — is not necessarily a crime.

In ruling last year on Arizona's terrible "show-us-your-papers" immigration law, the justices ruled that local authorities did not have the right to detain individuals based on immigration status alone.

"Amnesty" has become a buzzword, but what about "forgiveness"? What's wrong with forgiveness for the millions of immigrants who are living in the shadows of a nation that should value them for their work ethic and contributions to our culture, our society and our economy?

On the whole, immigrants who enter the country legally have proved to be an asset, especially when it comes to economic growth, business development and academic achievement in science, technology and engineering.

Columnist Ezra Klein wrote in The Washington Post on Thursday that about one-tenth of the people in the United States are foreign-born. But more than a quarter of U.S. technology and engineering businesses started in the decade that ended in 2005 had a foreign-born owner.

Half of all tech startups in Silicon Valley had a foreign-born founder; a quarter of the Nobel laureates based in the United States the past 50 years were born elsewhere; and about half of the Ph.D.s now working in the science and technology fields were not born here.

Immigrants start businesses and file patents at a significantly higher rate than their U.S.-born counterparts, and immigrants have been shown to lift wages overall.

Clearly there's a difference between a farm worker who enters the country illegally and a young person who enters the country on a student visa and obtains a work card and then citizenship.

But if the nation embraced all immigrants willing to walk the path to citizenship, the benefits would be huge.

They would contribute to Social Security and Medicare, easing the economic challenge that the retiring baby boomer generation is putting on the systems. At the moment, there are five working Americans for every retiree. That number is expected to fall to three-to-one by 2050. Those numbers would be altered dramatically if immigrant workers were added to the rolls.

A bipartisan agreement has been reached in the Senate on the principles of comprehensive reform. Republicans still are insisting on making the path to citizenship more onerous than it should be, but this is what compromise looks like. For now.

Down the road, as the nation's demographics and politics change, the urge to punish and the resistance to forgiveness will subside. The ambitious young Republican leader, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, and the grizzled GOP veteran, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, are lighting the path for their party: Stronger borders and a tough path to legal citizenship.

At this moment, that's the best we're going to get. President Barack Obama has warned that if Congress doesn't overhaul immigration this year, he will force lawmakers' hands by insisting on a quick vote on a bill that he will craft.

There's too much at stake politically for Republicans to risk that. The wiser ones will agree to the deal they are being offered; the less wise will listen to tea-party absolutists and drive their party further toward irrelevance.

As McCain said when stating his position: "We have been too content for too long to allow individuals to mow our lawns, serve our food, clean our homes and even watch our children, while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great."

The greatness that America embodies attracts the best citizens that foreign countries have to offer. Letting them share — and contribute — fully in America's bounty will lift us all.




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