The Benefits of Immigration Reform

By Senator Anthony Cannella and Assemblymembers Luis Alejo, Jeff Gorell and V. Manuel Pérez
Thursday, July 11, 2013

Published in the Salinas Californian

As members of the state legislature, we come from different areas and political perspectives. We disagree on various issues facing our state and differ in our approaches to finding solutions to problems. However, at this historic moment, we have joined in bipartisan support to call upon Congress and the president to take a compassionate and just approach to solving the nation’s broken immigration system.

We represent vastly different regions of the state with very different needs. Yet, we are all tightly bound by a shared interest in an economic recovery for California.

Thus far, the recovery has been driven largely by hard-working laborers and innovators. However, in order to fully harness the economic potential of our entire workforce, our leaders on Capitol Hill must enact common sense immigration reform that promises a better future.

But, the issue of immigration reform is of particular importance to California, which is the ninth largest economy in the world and home to more than 10 million immigrants. It must also be acknowledged — just as Governor Brown has rightfully recognized — that the contributions of foreign-born Californians are fundamental to the economies of both our state and our nation. Our future prosperity depends heavily upon the successful employment, education, and integration of immigrant families in our society.

Currently, California’s economy both demands and depends upon labor that immigrants can offer, especially in our strong agricultural industries. However, productivity in many sectors of our state’s economy is hampered by the lack of approved presence for many foreign-born workers. By upgrading the current visa programs and establishing an earned citizenship process that requires immigrants to learn English, we can increase the productive capacity of the economy by properly integrating the world’s best and brightest into our workforce. Doing so would also create new taxpaying residents who can help us financially support priorities such as education and public safety.

At the same time, our economy is becoming more and more reliant upon innovative industries that require increased education and skill. By supplementing improvements to our visa programs and our paths to citizenship with the Governor’s proposal to emphasize education in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, we can begin to address our future workforce needs by ensuring that an ample supply of educated and skilled workers exists within California.

Moreover, immigrants have proven to be among the nation’s most creative and economically productive residents. For example, immigrants start businesses at a higher rate than native born citizens — with one in four new small business owners being an immigrant. In fact, Forbes reports that 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Common sense immigration reform would harness the creativity and energy of immigrants whose dreams will strengthen our economy by creating jobs for our native born citizens.

Nevertheless, these reforms would be meaningless if we do not effectively address border security as a critical component of the solution, doing so in a way that supports economic growth through the legitimate movement of goods and people at our ports of entry.

In short, our nation’s population growth is slowing, our current workforce is aging, and our economic recovery remains in a fragile state. It is imperative that we modernize our nation’s antiquated and dysfunctional immigration system in order to revitalize our economy and uphold our society’s basic values of fairness, equality, and opportunity.

We are all committed to building consensus on the issue of immigration reform. For this reason, we have all supported Assembly Joint Resolution 3 by Assemblymember Luis Alejo (D-Salinas), which urges President Obama and Congress to address the most important civil rights issue of our time — comprehensive immigration reform.

This resolution, which has received a broad base of support from businesses, workers and farmers, presents a critical opportunity to weigh in and send a strong bipartisan message that California supports comprehensive immigration reform. We should not let this opportunity go to waste. Now is the time for action.