My View: We must fix broken system to improve nation, economy

I’m looking forward to the U.S. House of Representatives passing a fair, bipartisan and urgently needed immigration reform bill this summer.

There were moments when I despaired of the Senate accomplishing something similar, but in June, they did.

Before that vote, I remember thinking support for immigration reform would come primarily from urban centers that tend to represent the liberal vote. That was before I talked to apple growers in Eastern Washington and vineyard owners in Oregon’s wine country. After that, the Senate vote to pass the bill, S.744, made a lot of sense.

As it turns out, this is as much an economic issue as it is one of human rights. That was clear from talking to these small business owners, whose pragmatic interest in reform dovetails with the needs of the people I serve as chief executive officer of Lutheran Community Services Northwest.

From where I sit, for example, it’s clear how much reform with a roadmap to citizenship is essential for many hard-working families. Their immigration status leaves them living in uncertainty and constant fear. Citizenship would give them the security to invest in homes, education and their children’s future. Complementing that concern, the businesspeople I spoke with can see how the roadmap to citizenship is needed to achieve a prosperous economy with a stable and educated work force and consumer base.

By voting “yes” on S.744, Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden heeded both economic and human rights concerns and brought America a step closer to concrete solutions. They acted with the prosperity and the humanity of their constituents in mind.

They could vote as they did knowing that the Congressional Budget Office calculates that the bill would reduce federal budget deficits by more than $200 billion for a decade. They also could take heart in the fact that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has issued a report on how immigrant entrepreneurs are strengthening the economy and creating jobs. And yet another set of facts is on their side: Immigration Policy Center researchers have found that immigrant entrepreneurs and consumers already add billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs to Oregon’s economy.

The data was on the side of S.744. So much so that senators, like Merkley and Wyden, were able to reach across the aisle to their Republican counterparts and shake on a solution.

So as the businesspeople I spoke with could tell you, the potential economic benefits of fixing our immigration system are immense. So, too, are the benefits fair reform holds out for developing the full potential of the people who live within our borders.

When I started working for LCS in Portland in 1990, I entered a world of passionate, dedicated staff who were once refugees and immigrants. They are proof that with a path to citizenship, our communities are enriched by their diversity of skills and devotion to serving others.

Those caseworkers, who work in Portland, Seattle, Vancouver and McMinnville, can tell you that the human cost of failing to find solutions also is great. As one of them observed the other day, many of our clients are afraid that their families will be separated if one of their loved ones gets deported. Since we know that detention is being overused and deportation numbers have hit record highs recently, this fear is real — and the real consequences for people are harsh and far-reaching.

It’s these human stories that make it imperative for Congress to pass immigration reform. I urge the House leadership to unite and pass a bill that mirrors the strengths of S.744 because keeping all families together is crucial to our communities, and because reform is a smart deal for our economy and our country.

Roberta Nestaas is president and chief executive officer of Lutheran Community Services Northwest in Seattle, an organization in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

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