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.
• Farm workers with five or more years of continuous employment in the United States should be allowed to apply for citizenship.
• Recognizing that immigration is a national issue, local law enforcement should be prohibited from enforcing any immigration laws except when the power is specifically granted to them by the federal government.
• U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement has failed to reflect the American dream to welcome and assist new immigrants; it should therefore either be radically transformed or a new “Welcome America” agency created to promote assimilation, education, entrepreneurship and citizenship.
• The federal health reform bill should be revised to allow the undocumented to purchase health insurance, particularly when they are spending their own money.
These are six reforms that every businessperson who believes in the American dream and free enterprise should support. We are optimistic that many of the above proposals will be part of a new era in understanding that the “problem” of 12 million undocumented persons can be transformed into huge economic and social benefit created by the infusion of 12 million hard-working Americans into our economic workplace.
Many of these provisions are supported by Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas, who is also the lead Republican on the Senate judiciary subcommittee on immigration. Most if not all of these reforms are also supported by the 111 Democrats who recently sent a letter to Obama, informing him that health care reform was not the only reform he had to achieve and that immigration reform was also a high priority.
Even the president of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, in a recent appearance on Univision’s “Al Punto” program said that he would favor immigration reform if it produced hard-working Americans who eat apple pie and learned “The Star-Spangled Banner.” We believe that all 12 million undocumented workers are prepared to do all three, with the possible exception of singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” on key.
Jorge Corralejo is chairman and chief executive of the Latino Business Chamber of Greater Los Angeles, Theresa Ynzunza is the former national president and founder of the National Latina Business Women’s Association, and Robert Guzman is the president and chairman of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers of Los Angeles.
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