I write to support prompt and comprehensive reform of our immigration laws—reform that will provide more legal immigration opportunities for willing hands of both high and low skill and that will provide an opportunity to work and ultimately a path to citizenship for those already here. I write first because of faces I know, talents I know and hearts that move my own.
My wife, Jeanne, and I sponsor two charter schools. About half of our students are Latino and many are undocumented. Most of these students came here as small children. They have no other home. To call them illegal is a sad joke. I know how it feels to look in the eyes of a talented and committed young man or woman and say, “I can get you into a good college, but I cannot find you a decent job after you graduate, no matter how well you do.” I know how it feels when a caregiver for an MS victim and Vietnam veteran whose wife worked with me is sent back to Eastern Europe for lack of papers.
The Illinois and U.S. economies are in critical need of comprehensive immigration reform. I have served as a co-chairman of a task force on immigration policy and the economy, sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. This task force, also co-chaired by Chicagoans Clare Munana, Carole Segal, Sam Scott and former Mayor Richard M. Daley, along with a bipartisan group of Midwestern leaders, has been studying the economic importance of immigration to the Midwest.
Through this process, we have learned how deeply the economy needs immigrants at all skill levels. Here in the Midwest, immigrants perform a quarter of what we wrongly call low-skill work and make up a similar proportion of our physicians and surgeons. Immigrants make our high-tech companies more imaginative and competitive. They also care for children, staff hospitals and do home maintenance.
In Michigan, immigrants make up 6 percent of the population but are responsible for one-third of the high-tech firms launched between 1995 and 2005. Seventy-five percent of agriculture workers in the U.S. are foreign-born, and demand for them is expected to grow. Without immigrants, our region's population would be growing only barely.
I am proud to be part of a new effort: the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition. Alongside former Gov. Jim Edgar and businesspeople like Dave Bender of the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois, Omar Duque of the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Sam Toia of the Illinois Restaurant Association and a growing group from companies, hospitals and churches, we are uniting across diverse sectors—”high-skilled” and “low-skilled,” large corporations and small business—to push for sensible immigration reform that benefits the people and economy.
This must be a bipartisan effort. As Americans, we may have different views on how to build a decent society, but decency is not the monopoly of either party. I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer to my question: “Since when is it conservative to tell people they cannot work and pay taxes?”
In the end, we are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants. Collectively we have made the economy what it is. More willing hands and hearts can only help. Our economy needs immigration reform; our consciences demand it.
via Crain's Chicago Business
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