DENNIS HASTERT: The House GOP Can’t Ignore the Path to Citizenship


Last week, Republican leaders in the House of Representatives published their immigration standards—a set of principles to guide debate about immigration in the House. This is a critical first step to fixing our broken immigration system.

The Senate bill, which passed last year with the support of both senators from my home state, Illinois, provides more money for border security, allows immigrants already here to work, expands visa programs and establishes an arduous 13-year path to citizenship.

The House will act in its own way, as it should. But it should act soon. Immigration reform will make our economy stronger and our country more secure.

The whole formula for immigration reform can fall into place if two basic issues are solved. First, securing our borders so we know who is entering our country and for what purpose. Second, a legalization of those folks who are already here, many of whom have been here for a decade or more. In addition, we should provide them with a path to citizenship much like any other immigrant would have. Those two things being satisfied, I believe immigration reform can move forward.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, immigration reform would increase U.S. GDP by 5.4 percent ($1.2 trillion) over the next 20 years, while jump-starting the housing recovery by dramatically increasing the demand for housing units. A report by the Bipartisan Policy Center found that immigration reform would also shave more than $1.2 trillion off the federal deficit over 20 years.

The cost of inaction is high. For example, the science and technology industry is growing so rapidly that, on our current course, by 2018 there will be a shortage of 200,000 qualified people to fill key positions, the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group of mayors and business leaders who support immigration reform, estimates. In the agricultural field, 75 percent of hired agricultural workers in the United States are foreign-born, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over the long haul a decrease in available immigrant labor could reduce U.S. agricultural output and exports even as the demand for food is growing. According to a 2011 survey conducted by the consulting firm Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute (part of the National Association of Manufacturers), U.S. manufacturing companies could not fill 600,000 open positions for skilled workers on a daily basis even with unemployment hovering close to 9 percent at the time.

Immigration reform is necessary for our economic recovery. It is also critical to our national security, an issue on which we’ve made great strides since 9/11. Under my leadership in 2002, we started the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, which requires noncitizens from certain countries residing in the United States to register with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. As speaker of the House, I led the passage of the REAL ID Act in 2005, which enabled us to verify the authenticity of every driver’s license applicant across the country and made drivers licenses hard to forge. E-Verify, an electronic data system that allows employers to verify the legal status of workers, is now a requirement in some form in 16 states.

In the last six years, Department of Homeland Security’s deportation program “Secure Communities” has connected federal, state and local law enforcement databases. All of these programs have furthered our national security interests. Now is the time to create a reason for those without legal status to register themselves and drain the swamp of the lucrative fraudulent document and smuggling industry that is currently thriving. This will also allow law-enforcement to refocus their resources on removing individuals with criminal backgrounds rather than those entering the country legitimately to work. Homeland security requires that we know who is living here.

Nearly two-thirds of all undocumented immigrants in the country have been living and working in the states for more than a decade, according to a poll conducted by Latino Decisions. We need a reasonable way to bring them out of the shadows so that they can legally contribute to our economy. Removing them is neither practical nor economically smart.

Finally, Latinos now make up 16 percent of the country, according to the U.S. Census, and are projected to grow to 30 percent by 2050. The Asian population is growing fast and will reach 10 percent by 2050. The majority of this growth is occurring now through birth rates, not immigration—and these groups are starting to vote in big numbers. My own party must acknowledge this reality and embrace these ever-growing constituencies if it is to remain relevant in national elections.

Immigration reform will make us safer. It will make us economically stronger. It is politically smart and morally right.

Dennis Hastert is former Republican speaker of the House of Representatives and currently senior adviser at Dickstein Shapiro in Washington, D.C.follow us on facebook and twitter

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