There is rarely a good time to do hard things, and America won’t advance if legislators act like seat-warmers.
When I learned that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his Republican primary, my heart sank. Not simply because I think he is an intelligent and talented member of Congress, or because I worry about the future of the Republican Party.
Like others who want comprehensive immigration reform, I worried that Mr. Cantor’s loss would be misconstrued and make Congress reluctant to tackle this urgent need. That would be the wrong lesson and an undesirable national consequence of this single, local election result.
People are looking for leadership—those who stand for something and offer a vision for how to take America forward and keep our nation economically competitive. One of the most immediate ways to revitalize our economy is by passing immigration reform.
chose to come to America and become a citizen because America was—and remains—the most free and entrepreneurial nation in the world. Our history is defined by people whose character and culture have been shaped by ambition, imagination and hard work, bound together by a dream of a better life.
Is the idea of immigration reform complicated by the fact that some immigrants went outside the legal system to be here? Yes. It is complicated even more by the fear some Americans have, quite naturally, of how changing populations might also change our culture, communities and economic circumstances.
Well, of course immigration means change. Immigrants enrich our culture and add to our economic prosperity.
You don’t have to take one immigrant’s word for it. The Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan group of political and business leaders, reports that people who moved here from abroad or their children founded more than 40% of America’s Fortune 500 companies—businesses that collectively employ millions of people.
Do Americans really wish Google, eBay, Pfizer or Home Depot were headquartered in Eastern Europe or China instead of America? Whether it’s a high-profile tech company or a small business employing just 10 people, 28% of all new American businesses started in 2011 were founded by immigrants. Those are entrepreneurial people we want to continue to attract to our economy.
I don’t believe that people come to America to sit on their hands. The vast majority of America’s immigrants are hardworking, family-minded individuals with strong values. They are drawn here from many different places by a common belief that this is still the land of opportunity for those willing to work hard.
We need to give those individuals who are already here—after they have passed checks to ensure they are not dangerous criminals—a path to citizenship so they can pay their full taxes, be counted, and become more productive members of our community.
Next, we need to do away with the cap on H-1B visas, which is arbitrary and results in U.S. companies struggling to find the high-skill workers they need to continue growing. We already know that most of the applications for these visas are for computer programmers and engineers, where there is a shortage of qualified American candidates. But we are held back by the objections of the richly funded labor unions that mistakenly believe that if we keep innovation out of America, somehow nothing will change. They are wrong, and frankly as much to blame for our stalemate on this issue as nativists who scream about amnesty.
If we are serious about advancing our economic future and about creating job growth here in America, then we must realize that it is suicidal to suggest closing our doors to the world’s entrepreneurs, or worse, to continue with large-scale deportations.
That is not to suggest we don’t need to do a far better job securing our border. Border security should be an integral part of a comprehensive solution, and we should not dismiss the concerns of states that are struggling to deal with the consequences of ongoing illegal immigration.
Some politicians and pundits will argue that this is not the time to bring immigration reform to the congressional floor—that it will frighten an already anxious workforce and encourage more extreme candidates, especially on the right. They may be right about the short-term politics, but they are dead wrong about the long-term interests of our country.
Maybe, as someone who came here as an immigrant, I have more faith in the compassion and fortitude of the American people, and in their ability to reject extreme views on either side of the political spectrum. Or maybe, as a businessman, I have learned that there is rarely a good time to do the hard things.