Let’s show Congress how to cooperate on immigration reform

by Napa Institute
Published In March 12, 2020

Originally posted in The Hill

Can Americans agree on anything anymore? If you pay attention to Congress and the presidential contest, the answer sure seems to be “No.” But if you ask the American people, you’ll find the opposite is true. This is the case with one of the most pressing — and supposedly divisive — issues of our time: immigration.

According to Gallup, more than 75 percent of Americans say immigration is good for the country. On the economy, values and culture, more people say immigrants have made a positive difference than a negative one. In fact, the percentage of Americans who say immigration helps the economy has been rising for a decade. More than three-quarters of adults want Congress to come up with a plan to help undocumented immigrants, admit people to America who have skills the country needs, and secure the border. Our citizens want us to do all of the above, not choose between the options.

The polling is clear: Americans want action on immigration. Yet, year after year, Congress does nothing. Why? Because Republicans and Democrats aren’t feeling pressure from society to get the job done. To solve this issue, they need to feel that pressure.

It has been said that “politics is downstream from culture,” and that holds true on immigration. Our leaders and lawmakers won’t cooperate until and unless they see the rest of us cooperating. This may seem like a tall task in these partisan times, but nothing is more important for anyone who wants to see immigration reform get done — and done right. 

What does cooperation look like in practice? It means conservatives partnering with liberals, different faith traditions uniting their voices, business groups and labor unions working together, and other diverse people and groups recognizing that they have common views on this issue. There already is an immigration consensus that cuts across economic, ideological, religious and political lines. It’s just a matter of intentionally elevating it.

This has happened before. The criminal justice reform movement that culminated with the First Step Act in 2018 had a diversity of voices — many of whom disagreed on most other issues. They achieved success precisely because they put those differences aside. Similarly, with immigration the facts that are obscured by political bickering have a better chance of breaking through when highlighted by people of varied backgrounds and beliefs. 

To start, immigration is at the heart of the American story. It is part and parcel of the country’s growth, with each generation seeing a new influx of people from across the globe. Look back far enough and nearly every American can trace their heritage to people who came here in search of a better life. For some, it’s their parents. For others, it’s their great-great-great grandparents, or maybe further back. All are testament to America’s appeal and its power to uplift all who come here.

Immigration is essential to the American economy. Not only do immigrants fill millions of jobs, they create millions of jobs, too. Immigrants are twice as likely to start businesses; they have founded 40 percent of the companies on the Fortune 500. To keep the economy growing, our country needs more immigrants, not fewer, to foster innovations, build companies, take new jobs, and create opportunities and prosperity that benefit us all.

Finally, immigration is an expression of America’s commitment to justice and human dignity. There’s a reason that nearly 90 percent of our fellow citizens want the Dreamers — undocumented immigrants brought here as children — to be allowed to stay. It’s the same reason we hold up Ellis Island as a proud national symbol. We believe in the ideals of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” even for those who weren’t born here. We welcome people who want to use their talents to contribute to America’s success.

These views are widely held across our country. If we hope to turn that consensus into concrete action, Americans of all stripes need to come together and demand better from our leaders. Cooperation isn’t just possible, it’s essential to achieve the kind of immigration reform that Americans deserve — and want.

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