In 1986, President Reagan initiated a major economic growth spurt in America through his immigration reform bill. It gave millions of undocumented families an opportunity to become hard-working American citizens, and it was a vital element in expanding our work force and entrepreneurial spirit.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), one of our most effective and well-respected Congress members, has just introduced a similar effort to revitalize America. It is consistent with our welcoming spirit and could create a Lincoln-like legacy for President Obama.

Obama has a number of reform programs, but the one most supported by Latino businesses is immigration reform. Polls state that 84% of Latinos believe that immigration reform by the end of next year is important, or very important. And many, according to political pundits, are unlikely to vote for the president or anyone else, if immigration reform fails. The failure of immigration reform could seriously erode Obama’s high popularity with Latinos (74% approval rating), and reduce the huge percentage of Latinos who voted for him in 2008 (69%) in 2012. This could occur through a combination of many switching to the Republican Party and even higher numbers failing to vote at all. A failure might also enable the Republicans to capture the vote of the majority of Latino business leaders as occurred under Reagan.

Conservative demands for immigration restrictions have generally been met since President Bush’s failed immigration reform efforts of 2006-07. The U.S. Border Patrol has been increased by 20,000, and 600 miles of fencing and other barriers have been erected to restrict the flow of undocumented persons.

Specific reforms needed

Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, recently enunciated the Obama administration’s immigration reform outline. It’s a “three-legged stool” of strict enforcement, expedited immigration approval processes and a clear pathway to citizenship.

As Southern California business leaders who deeply understand the dependency of the California economy on immigrants, including the undocumented, we would urge the following reforms as part of the Obama-Hispanic Congressional Caucus reform bill:

• The pathways for the undocumented to become citizens should be firm, transparent and fair, and not based on finding trivial technical defects that interfere with the American dream.

• Major incentives should be provided to all children of the undocumented not born in the United States to become citizens through the securing of a college degree, entrepreneurship, and/or military service in order to promote a well-educated work force, and a strong and loyal military.

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