Moderated by Tom Sabulis
For the second consecutive day, our Opinion page spotlights immigration reform. Today, we hear from a supporter of the bill that recently passed the Senate. A Georgia congressman writes about his opposition to that proposed legislation. And an Atlanta businessman emphasizes the importance for Washington to move quickly and productively on this contentious issue.
There are three columns today. Commenting is open.
By Floyd R. Blair
Senators from both parties came together this summer and passed humane immigration reform, Senate Bill 744. For those of us who favor a practical and fair way of fixing our broken immigration system, this was cause for celebration.
At the head of the celebration should be Georgians. Nearly 1 in 10 Georgians is an immigrant. Immigrants are our neighbors, friends, employees and employers. Our diversity is what makes our state so vibrant. Immigration reform holds out the promise that newcomers will be able to more fully enrich our society and economy.
However, much work lies ahead. We must urge leaders in the House of Representatives to pass bipartisan legislation that mirrors S. 744’s strengths right away — because keeping families together is vital to our congregations and communities.
Why is family unity key here? As CEO of Lutheran Services of Georgia, an organization that provides community-based programs serving native-born and new Americans, I’m reminded of the answers each day.
What comes to mind first is our program for visiting immigrants who have been detained for civil, not criminal, violations. One detainee I know of was the sole provider for his family, which included a young son with autism and cancer. Despite committing no criminal offense, this father was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement one day and sent to a detention center. This detention deprived the vulnerable son of the medical care he needed, and his father’s love. Thankfully, S. 744 includes measures that would give children a better chance of staying with their parents.
Besides preserving family unity, S. 744 can move America forward in three other critical ways. First, it provides a road map by which undocumented people can eventually earn citizenship. Second, it better ensures humane and just enforcement of immigration laws by reducing the use of immigrant detention and expanding community support programs. Third, it creates more efficient and humane processes to protect refugees and other vulnerable migrants.
I know there’s nothing unique about the suffering I’ve seen under the broken immigration system. Nor is there anything unique to Lutherans about supporting immigration reform. In fact, the commitment to seeking reform unites the majority of Americans.
Sometimes, our reasons for supporting immigration reform come from common-sense observations about what’s good for our economy and society; sometimes, the reasons are deeply personal. For me, growing up in New York City, Ellis Island was a constant reminder of the immigrants who had passed through on their way to beginning new lives. It showed that our country has a tradition of welcoming others, and that it is our duty to uphold that tradition.
S. 744’s passage shows our lawmakers are beginning to heed Americans’ call to confront the human suffering in their own communities and congregations. However, the work of securing humane immigration reform is just beginning. Now is the moment for the House to show bipartisan leadership and pass a fair and effective reform bill. Georgians expect no less from our elected officials.
Floyd R. Blair is president/CEO of Lutheran Services of Georgia and is in the ordination process for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
By Rob Woodall
A prominent American once laid out a vision of our nation as “a safe and agreeable place” for “virtuous and persecuted people” from around the world. It wasn’t President Barack Obama or Sen. Chuck Schumer who articulated that vision; it was our first president, George Washington.
President Washington rightly viewed immigration not as an obstacle to our nation’s success, but as integral to it. And it is precisely because immigration is so critical to our success that we must get immigration reform right. The Senate bill, even if written with good intentions, has gotten immigration reform wrong.
The Senate’s comprehensive reform bill, passed in June, was immediately met with bipartisan opposition in the House of Representatives. Much like other “comprehensive” efforts, S. 744 was written behind closed doors, loaded with special-interest deals, and extends over more than a thousand pages.
Regrettably, rather than crafting a bill designed to improve our immigration system, the Senate crafted a political messaging mega-bill designed simply to win as many votes as possible. To win some of those votes, the Senate made promises on border security and enforcement that either can’t be kept or were made to be broken. America can do better, and we must. The House is committed to doing exactly that as we work to overhaul America’s broken immigration system.
While the most controversial ideas about immigration reform draw the most attention, a vast majority of Americans agree on common-sense ideas that we can pass today, like securing our border, enforcing our laws and reforming our visa system. By addressing these areas of common ground one bill at a time, we can build upon — rather than compromise — the values that have made America the greatest nation on earth. This is what we owe to the American people, to those who aspire to join our ranks, and to those who have paved the way.
This debate is neither hopeless nor new. Wise Americans have already laid the foundation for what our immigration system should look like. We have always wanted the hardest workers and the brightest minds from around the world, and James Madison said as much in 1790. The purpose of immigration, he said, is “to increase the wealth and strength of the community.”
Those words, and that vision, should echo throughout the halls of Congress once more today. My colleagues and I in the House are committed to reforming our immigration system to reflect that vision — one step at a time, on the floor of the House and in plain view of the folks we represent.
Special interests ask the question, “What is good for this group or that?” I ask the question, “What is good for America?” Presidents Washington and Madison answered that question more than 200 years ago, and the answer remains the same today. I am committed to charting a path forward on immigration reform. As long as we’re asking the right questions, the answers will be ones that make America strong and the American people proud.
Rob Woodall, a Republican, represents Georgia’s 7th Congressional District.
By Todd Rushing
My partner Bob Amick and I own and operate five restaurants in Atlanta employing 300 people. Our employees are immigrants from Mexico and Central America. They are cooks, dishwashers and service staff, all vital to a restaurant’s success.
We need Congress to repair the immigration system so it benefits our business and the economy. We need stronger border security and immigration law enforcement. Congress must also provide businesses a way to verify if new hires are legally eligible to work.
Most unauthorized immigrants are otherwise law-abiding, hard-working individuals whose work bolsters U.S. prosperity and sustains jobs. We should allow them to earn their way onto the right side of the law. Meaningful reform, however, must look beyond today’s unauthorized immigrants. The heart of reform is mending the immigration system so it works for America’s future, admitting the immigrants we need and preventing future illegal immigration.
Our restaurants pay well above the minimum wage, between $9.50 and $19 an hour. However, the U.S. labor force has changed dramatically. Today’s workers are more educated than the generation before and have other employment options. Often, there are not enough willing and able Americans to answer the labor shortage. The restaurant sector is not unique. Many indispensable industries rely on less-skilled immigrants. Without this workforce, these sectors would be severely hobbled or collapse.
The greatest problem is there is virtually no legal way for less-skilled foreigners without family in the U.S. to enter the country and work in year-round jobs. The two, existing, temporary worker programs for less-skilled workers are for seasonal labor on farms and at summer and winter resorts. There are virtually no permanent visas for less-skilled workers who want to settle in the United States.
Congress needs to fill this gap by developing a visa program for less-skilled, non-farm workers. Employers should hire Americans first and pay decent wages. If they cannot find enough U.S. workers, however, they should be able to hire foreign workers quickly, easily and legally. Any new program should also respond in real time to changing U.S. labor needs, growing in prosperous years when the economy needs more foreign workers, and shrinking in down times when more Americans are out of work.
Without a workable temporary visa program, the nation cannot hope to end illegal immigration. An overwhelming majority of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. today would rather be here legally. Without a legal way for less-skilled workers to come to the U.S. in the future, we will find ourselves in exactly the same predicament — wondering what to do about a new influx of millions of unauthorized immigrants.
Fixing our broken immigration system cannot be put off. If we do not create a legal way for less-skilled immigrants to enter the country and work, we will not restore the rule of law and will guarantee that millions more come to the U.S. illegally. The stakes could hardly be higher. We need Congress to act decisively and swiftly.
Todd Rushing is part-owner of Concentrics Restaurants.