Colorado is home to roughly half a million immigrants, about a third of whom are undocumented, according to a report by the Center for Immigration Studies. More than 11 million undocumented immigrants are estimated to be in the United States.
In Colorado and across the nation, industries like farming and construction rely on the labor provided by workers who are not in the country legally. To that end, the way of life enjoyed by so many Americans is dependent upon them.
The system, however, under which these immigrants work, live and learn is broken. Few would argue against that point. But what's to be done?
Spearheaded by a bipartisan “Gang of Eight” — which included Sen. Michael Bennet, of Colorado — a comprehensive immigration-reform measure passed, with support from a number of Republicans, through the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate last June. The bill, S. 744, went nowhere in the House, though.
Early signs are that the Republican-controlled House has no plans to take up a single comprehensive bill this year either, but will instead address immigration in a piecemeal fashion of multiple measures.
It is encouraging that the House plans to address this critical issue, and in fact, there are reports that Speaker John Boehner aims to unveil the principles of the plan before the end of the month. But as they forge ahead with a plan of their own, we urge House leaders to embrace the primary tenets of the Senate-passed measure.
For one thing, S. 744 is good for business. A letter sent to the Senate last June in support of the bill was signed by myriad business organizations, including the Denver Metro, South Metro Denver and U.S. chambers of commerce.
In part, the letter said:
“America's current immigration system is broken and does not meet the needs of our citizens or businesses. Improvements to our nation's immigration policies are long overdue and are essential to continued economic growth. We especially applaud the efforts of the bipartisan 'Gang of 8' for their leadership on this issue and commend the entire Senate for your hard work on this difficult and controversial issue.”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hardly a stronghold of liberal ideals, is one of the most outspoken proponents of comprehensive immigration reform in general and S. 744 in particular, touting a study that says the nation's economy would stand to grow by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
S. 744 — also known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act — takes a truly broad-based approach to reform.
Among other things, the bill calls for:
• More than $40 billion of initial funding to shore up border security.
• Mandatory use by employers of an electronic employment verification system known as E-Verify.
• Creation of a Registered Provisional Immigrant program that includes background checks and mandates the payment of application fees. RPI status may be renewed after six years and immigrants can pursue lawful permanent residence after 10 years, if they remain employed, pay taxes, pass background checks and meet English proficiency requirements.
• A faster track to lawful permanent residence for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children and for agricultural workers.
• A path to citizenship, for those who fulfill the RPI requirements, which would take 13 years or more.
That last point, the path to citizenship, has been one of the more controversial aspects of the bill and was met with large resistance by House Republicans last year. We're not sold on the necessity of it being part of an immigration overhaul, but we understand and appreciate the importance it plays for both lawmakers behind the bill and for immigrants whose dream includes citizenship.
With worker shortages looming and wasteful spending rampant on a current system that isn't getting the job done, S. 744 is, on the whole, a beacon of hope. Leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives would do well to follow the light — and act now.