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On Capitol Hill, Donohue’s efforts will support legislative work by bipartisan groups in both the House and Senate currently discussing immigration reform proposals. President Obama, too, has vowed to make immigration reform a top legislative priority in 2013.
Bringing a wide range of interest groups on board an immigration reform push is key, Donohue acknowledged, because immigration reform’s many politically explosive questions – What to do with undocumented immigrants? How to secure America’s borders? What about American unemployment? – could be disastrous for lawmakers.
“These are very passionate issues,” Donohue said. “People worry about what the folks back home think, and you can demagogue this issue very easily.”
Donohue’s speech offered only the broad outlines of an immigration reform plan. The Chamber favors strict border security measures and workplace systems to verify immigration status, “thoughtfully designed” guest worker programs for both low- and high-skilled workers, more green cards for international students at American universities, and “a path out of the shadows for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States today, provided that they meet strict conditions.”
Donohue put special emphasis on the need to reform the immigration system despite persistent unemployment among existing Americans.
“Even with high unemployment, we have millions of job openings that go unfilled. Either the workers come here to fill those jobs,” Donohue said, “or the companies take all of their jobs somewhere else.”
He noted that the Chamber and the business community at large are fighting for better job training and education reforms, but that even so, “we still need immigrants. We are locked in a competition for the world’s best talent. This is the competition that will separate the economic leaders from the laggards in the 21st century.”
And he warned that America would do well to remember its heritage when thinking through how to change its immigration system.
“As we have this important debate,” Donohue said, “let’s remember who we are and where our families would be today if earlier generations of Americans had decided to slam the door shut.”
“The door to the American dream,” he continued, “must always remain open.”