Immigration reform in 2013? It has a champion in Corporate America.(Read article summary)
US Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue says he's optimistic that immigration reform can be passed this year and is working with a broad array of partners to make that happen.
Corporate Americaâ€™s top lobbyist Thursday laid out a slew of the business communityâ€™s top goals for the year â€“ lower regulation, increased trade, booming energy production, and a fix to the nationâ€™s fiscal situation.
But US Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue was particularly bullish, and at times passionate, on another long-sought goal, one not often associated with the conservative-leaning group: immigration reform.
â€śI have an optimistic feeling about this,â€ť Mr. Donohue told reporters after his annual State of American Business speech. â€śBefore, everybody talked about it, everybody understood the issues, but there wasnâ€™t an energy behind it and I think there is a bipartisan group of people â€“ we havenâ€™t got everybody, thatâ€™s for sure â€“ but I feel positive about it and look forward to [immigration reform] this year.â€ť
The Chamber has been a firm advocate for immigration reform, an issue more closely identified with liberal advocates, for many years, including its support for 2006 legislation that stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Donohue said his conversations with lawmakers from both parties on Capitol Hill make him optimistic for a solution in 2013. He also noted that the Chamber is working with groups ranging from faith organizations to law enforcement to labor unions including the nationâ€™s largest â€“ and staunchly progressive â€“ labor group, the AFL-CIO, to forge a broad political coalition to support an immigration reform effort.
â€śWe will find a balance in these issues,â€ť Donohue said, before calling AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka, a man with whom Donohue is working personally, â€śabout the best guy in town at building coalitions.â€ť
On Capitol Hill, Donohueâ€™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 reformâ€™s many politically explosive questions â€“ What to do with undocumented immigrants? How to secure Americaâ€™s borders? What about American unemployment? â€“ could be disastrous for lawmakers.
â€śThese are very passionate issues,â€ť Donohue said. â€śPeople worry about what the folks back home think, and you can demagogue this issue very easily.â€ť
Donohueâ€™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, â€śthoughtfully designedâ€ť guest worker programs for both low- and high-skilled workers, more green cards for international students at American universities, and â€śa path out of the shadows for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States today, provided that they meet strict conditions.â€ť
Donohue put special emphasis on the need to reform the immigration system despite persistent unemployment among existing Americans.
â€śEven with high unemployment, we have millions of job openings that go unfilled. Either the workers come here to fill those jobs,â€ť Donohue said, â€śor the companies take all of their jobs somewhere else.â€ť
He noted that the Chamber and the business community at large are fighting for better job training and education reforms, but that even so, â€śwe still need immigrants. We are locked in a competition for the worldâ€™s best talent. This is the competition that will separate the economic leaders from the laggards in the 21st century.â€ť
And he warned that America would do well to remember its heritage when thinking through how to change its immigration system.
â€śAs we have this important debate,â€ť Donohue said, â€śletâ€™s remember who we are and where our families would be today if earlier generations of Americans had decided to slam the door shut.â€ť
â€śThe door to the American dream,â€ť he continued, â€śmust always remain open.â€ť