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Sun., Aug. 18, 2013

Guest opinion: Immigration is broken; let’s fix it

When lawmakers return to Washington, D.C., in September, they will have an opportunity to fix the nation’s broken immigration system. With the Senate successfully advancing legislation in June – and the House continuing to deliberate on a path forward – the country is closer to comprehensive reform than it has been in decades.

Immigration reform is a competitiveness issue, particularly for manufacturers, and it’s in everyone’s interest that manufacturers in the United States have all the tools they need to compete in the global economy.

After all, manufacturing powers the economy. Every dollar invested in manufacturing generates $1.48 of spin-off economic activity, the highest multiplier effect of any other sector of the economy.

Manufacturers, however, are facing headwinds. A sluggish global economy hurts our ability to export and grow. Uncertainty about policies coming out of the nation’s capital is holding back investment and hiring. On top of all these impediments to growth, manufacturers must contend with workforce challenges.

Today, manufacturers are struggling to fill jobs, even in this time of high unemployment. Some 600,000 manufacturing jobs are open because employers can’t find workers with the right skills. Groups like ours are spearheading a number of initiatives to train and educate workers for a career in modern manufacturing. Those efforts, however, will take time, and we need workers to fill manufacturers’ immediate needs. That’s why it’s essential that we reform our lesser-skilled immigration system that allows foreign talent to be hired if Americans are unavailable.

In the short term, manufacturers can secure talent abroad to meet their workforce needs. Too often, talented students receive their education in the United States, only to be forced to return home after earning their degree. Without major reforms, we will continue sending talent to our competitors and turning away a future generation of entrepreneurs.

In fact, more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were either started by an immigrant or the child of an immigrant, according to a study by the Partnership for a New American Economy, and manufacturers are well represented in this group. American manufacturing enterprises founded by immigrants span all sectors, from technology, to steel, to chemicals, to medical devices, to many others. We do not want to lose this economic driver.

But manufacturers’ interest in immigration reform is more than merely economic. Manufacturers take pride in the communities that they have helped build, and we know that comprehensive immigration reform can help keep our communities strong and vibrant. America’s story is an immigrant story – of people who came here because they believed in the American dream and wanted to play a part in its success. That’s why immigration reform must include a pathway to citizenship for the millions of undocumented individuals in the United States.

The Association of Washington Business and the National Association of Manufacturers are calling on lawmakers to do the right thing and fix the nation’s broken immigration system. Immigration reform will strengthen our national and economic security and our communities.

Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturing trade association. Jay Timmons is president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Manufacturers.


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