Guest column

Immigration deadlock is political failure

By U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet
Posted

In the current combative, partisan environment in Washington, compromise and cooperation are rare occurrences. That is even more evident following House Speaker John Boehner's recent announcement that the House of Representatives will not act on immigration reform this year.

On June 27, 2013, more than a year ago, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill to fix our broken immigration system. We wrote the bill as a part of the Group of 8, which included Republican Sens. Marco Rubio, John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Lindsey Graham. It also included Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin and Robert Menendez. The bill passed the Senate with nearly 70 votes.

We put politics aside in order to produce this commonsense bill. It has the support of countless organizations - from the Chamber of Commerce to the labor unions, from migrant workers to farmers and ranchers, from law enforcement agencies to the faith community, and Latino leaders.

The bill would strengthen our economy, secure our borders, reform guest worker programs, establish a rational system for the future flow of immigrants, and provide a tough but fair path to citizenship for the millions of people living in the shadows. Specifically, the border security provisions include unprecedented measures to double the number of border agents, complete 700 miles of fencing, and utilize new technology to provide 100 percent surveillance. The new guest-worker program would increase the number of visas for workers specializing in high-tech industries and streamline the H-2A visa system for agriculture workers.

According to a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, it would also decrease the deficit by $197 billion in the first 10 years and by $700 billion over the following decade. It would increase the nation's GDP by 3.3 percent by 2023 and by up to 5.7 percent by 2033.

Perhaps most importantly, this bill was largely crafted with the help of Coloradans from every region, industry, and background. We spoke with farmers on the Western Slope and Eastern Plains who are forced to watch their crops wither and die on the vine because they can't hire the workers they need to harvest them. We met with the members of the state's ski resorts and tourist industries who are struggling with an unworkable visa system for seasonal workers. The state's rapidly growing reputation as a hub for high-tech innovation is continuously threatened as we watch our best and brightest - educated in our schools - sent back to their native countries to compete against us. We have also heard from thousands of young DREAMers, many of whom were brought here without their knowledge and know no other country but the United States.

The success of the Group of 8 is proof that compromise and cooperation are possible - even for this Congress. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives does not seem to understand the critical need to fix our broken immigration system. The House's refusal to act has already cost us $13 billion in revenue the bill would have brought. And we will continue losing another $37 million more every day. The House's decision also costs us jobs. The Invest Visa alone would create 75,000 jobs per year.

With every day that goes by another harvest season passes, another family is torn apart, another talented student returns to their native country, and another opportunity is lost to fix our broken immigration system. Our country was founded on the quintessential American values of self-determination and independence, and there is literally no other country in the world for which immigration is so central - to its history and its heritage. The bill we passed more than a year ago in the Senate bears witness to this shared identity.

It is encouraging that the president announced his intention to take action within his power to fix our broken system, but without comprehensive legislation from Congress we cannot move our nation forward. Unfortunately, it seems the House of Representatives is refusing to move away from partisan extremes to join our effort.

Democrat Michael Bennet has represented Colorado in the U.S. Senate since 2009.