By U.S. Reps. David Schweikert, Matt Salmon and Paul Gosar
America is a nation of immigrants.
In our relatively short history, millions have left their homelands and traveled great distances to be a part of a grand experiment called America. Today, we are a melting pot of traditions, cultures and ethnicities – all united by a shared belief in the freedom and opportunity that we call the American Dream.
But we are also a nation of laws and fairness. Ours is a land where people can come, work hard and be successful regardless of where they come from, so long as they play by the rules and earn their way honestly. It is our belief in the rule of law and our belief in opportunity that makes the American Dream possible.
Both of these traditions are intertwined into our history and both must be preserved as we embark on the debate over immigration reform.
There is no question that our immigration system is not working, and debates on how to reform it spurs deep emotions for those on all sides of the issue.
But reform should not be driven by emotion alone. To successfully implement immigration reform, we must not lose sight of the ultimate goal: immigration reform must strengthen America as the flagship of freedom in the world.
Reforming our immigration system must start by streamlining and expanding legal immigration for skilled workers. American businesses are plagued by a shortage of skilled and educated workers particularly in the fields of science, math, engineering and technology.
Currently, only 13 percent of green cards are awarded based on economic considerations. This needs to change. We should be encouraging skilled workers to come to America to help grow American businesses and boost our economy.
Additionally, we need to reform and streamline our temporary work-visa program. To the extent that American businesses find themselves in need of low-skilled labor, we can and should expand this program. Not only will this help our economy, but it will also discourage illegal immigration by offering immigrants legal employment opportunities.
However, any temporary work-visa program must include enforcement mechanisms to ensure temporary workers do not overstay their visas, add to the ballooning cost of entitlements and increase the population of illegal immigrants already in the country.
Which brings us to the most contentious part of the immigration debate: what to do with the 11 million immigrants who have come here illegally? To answer this question, we must return to the two principles that have guided our nation from its inception to this day.
The desire to make a better life for oneself and one’s family is certainly admirable, but we should not reward those who have broken our laws at the expense of the millions of immigrants who have played by the rules and are patiently waiting their turn in line. Simply put, those in our country illegally should not have a unique path to citizenship not available to those who have chosen to abide by our laws and attempt to emigrate legally.
At the same time, there is no benefit to keeping 11 million illegal immigrants trapped in the shadows. In fact, it is in our country’s interest to know who they are and where they live.
Reforming our immigration system to address the status of the 11 million people in our country illegally should focus on normalizing their legal status without access to federal benefits or a special pathway to citizenship.
Finally, real and objectively verifiable border security must be a part of any legislation. If we cannot stem the tide of illegal immigration, we are destined to repeat the cycle of amnesty again and again.
In 1986, Congress passed comprehensive immigration reform, granting amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants, while promising that it would solve our country’s illegal immigration problem. Today, we have 11 million illegal immigrants, and we are on the verge of repeating the same mistakes.
We have an opportunity to learn from those mistakes and reform our immigration system in a way that preserves America’s tradition of fairness, freedom and equality. We hope Congress will not squander that opportunity.
In the spirit of the Statue of Liberty that declares, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” we welcome those who want to lawfully be a part of the American Dream.
But it is up to us to protect that dream, to respect the rule of law and to make sure future immigrants and future Americans have a place to call home. It is up to us to preserve the American tradition of fairness and laws that keep us the most prosperous, strongest nation on this Earth.