“Obama Wants to Split the GOP,” “The Era of Partisanship Isn’t Over,” “The Senate and the House are on a Collision Course.” These are just a few of the foreboding headlines as immigration reform moves forward in the Senate. But while some may derive stories from conflict, I believe the comprehensive immigration proposal currently under consideration in the Senate is actually very much a product of bipartisanship.
Our nation needs comprehensive immigration reform, and the immigration reform proposal championed by the “Gang of Eight” just may be our answer. When it comes to fixing our immigration system, I believe that most Nevadans actually agree on about 80 percent of the policy. It’s that other 20 percent where we disagree that tends to become the focus. I’ve been encouraged to see this particular piece of legislation continue to move through the regular legislative process and hope it continues.
The fact is, we have an immigration system that is broken and must be fixed. Our immigration laws are not being enforced, and as a result, as many as 11 million individuals are living in the United States in violation of our immigration law. In other words, we have de facto amnesty right now. At the same time, people hoping to immigrate to this great nation legally and share our American Dream are forced to hire a lawyer and spend thousands of dollars to navigate the immigration bureaucracy.
Enforcing laws currently on the books and building in effective enforcement mechanisms must come first. We need to finally secure our borders. This, by the way, is a principle on which both sides agree. We simply can’t be the only country on Earth that doesn’t enforce its immigration laws. We all want to live in a country where laws are respected and followed by those who live here and by those who wish to come here. By addressing this issue now, we as a nation have an opportunity to enrich our society with the best and brightest the world has to offer.
Reform is also necessary for providing communities and families certainty about their status and their role in American society. By establishing a path forward towards earned legal status, millions of people currently living in the shadows can understand what they and their family members need to do live here legally, plan for the future, and join in the fabric of American society. That’s not to say it will be easy. Those who decide to remain in the United States must pass background checks, pay taxes and a fine and learn English. They must wait in line behind everyone else who has applied before them. In fact, the option to even apply for permanent residency relies on the government’s ability to meet certain enforcement and border security requirements.
Fixing the system now provides us with an opportunity to continue to maintain the smartest, hardest-working, most creative workforce in the world. That often means allowing those who wish to immigrate here to join us. The legislation in its current form does address this issue, but the question of how many visas to provide to which kind of worker is still in flux. We must ensure that there are adequate visas for those who have special skills and are a perfect fit for jobs that cannot be otherwise filled by American citizens.
I’ve joined Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as an original co-sponsor of the Immigration Innovation Act. This legislation increases the number of temporary work visas and employment-based green cards for highly skilled foreign workers as well as streamlines the process to acquire them. Targeted specifically at individuals specialized in the fields of science, technology, engineering, math and others, this is just one area of immigration policy that can help encourage innovation and job creation. I will continue to monitor this particular portion of the proposal very closely.
In order for immigration reform legislation to be successful, it must continue through Congress with an open process. These past several weeks, I have been able to work with Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and other senators involved in this important bill, and we are finding ways to make this legislation even better. I am hopeful that this same pattern of transparency and openness will continue as Members debate the legislation on the Senate floor.
We are a nation of immigrants. America became the greatest nation on Earth because of the innovation, competition and rich cultural diversity that was born from a vibrant immigration process. At the same time, we treasure the privileges of being an American citizen, and we must protect them. As the Senate continues to debate this legislation, I believe that we can find an approach that works for both sides of the aisle. But for that to happen, neither side will get all that it wants.
As the Senate turns to immigration reform in coming weeks, members from both sides of the aisle must continue to work closely together. Maybe then the headlines will read something along the lines of “Bipartisanship Returns to Washington.”
I hope so.
Republican Dean Heller is a U.S. senator from Nevada.