Immigration: it’s broke—so let’s fix it

An Arizona rancher and a sheriff shot – both probably by smugglers. Thousands of people demonstrating in the streets – not just in Arizona, but in Denver and across the country. A bad law that will harass Arizonans and has outraged Americans from coast to coast. What’s happening in Arizona are symptoms of a larger problem- the need for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level.

Our immigration system is broken — and the consequences affect everyone in Colorado.

Consequence Number One: Colorado is home to an estimated 240,000 unauthorized immigrants – that’s equivalent to 40 percent of Denver’s total population. Many of them are working and contributing to the economy, but the fact that they are undocumented makes a mockery of the rule of law.

Consequence Number Two: the burgeoning network of illegal cottage industries that caters to these unauthorized workers, including human smuggling and fake identification rings.

Consequence Number Three: the impact on the Colorado economy – including a potential obstacle to economic recovery.

For years, Colorado business owners have struggled to get enough labor for landscape companies, hotels, ski resorts, construction and restaurants, just to name a few. Even with the high unemployment rates we’re seeing today, the truth is we still can’t find employees willing to do these kinds of jobs. Our goal is always employ Americans first, but without immigrants, our companies simply can’t survive.

We need a way to hire foreign workers legally. Many Colorado businesses rely on this labor pool to remain competitive and keep their doors open. If they go out of business, that means fewer opportunities for everyone, Americans and immigrants, in Colorado.

That’s why we, a broad array of Colorado business leaders, are standing up together in support of comprehensive immigration reform. We represent virtually every economic sector in the state – white-collar, blue-collar and “green-collar.”

We all have a stake in fixing the immigration system because comprehensive immigration reform will benefit our economy.

Many people assume that low-skilled immigrants take jobs from American workers. But actually the opposite is true.

Immigrant workers create jobs for Americans. The work they perform – whether it’s picking fruit on the Western Slope or washing dishes in Denver – complements and sustains employment for the native born. According to agricultural economists, every farm job, many of which are filled by foreign workers, supports 3.5 non-farm jobs, which are typically filled by U.S. citizens.

In other words, immigration is a job multiplier – the kind of job multiplier we desperately need to grow the economy and climb out of the recession.

What kind of immigration reform does Colorado need from Washington? We endorse secure borders, more realistic immigration quotas and protection for employers who are trying to meet the demands of the law.

We also support smarter workplace enforcement. Employers want to be on the right side of the law. And we need Congress to create an accurate, reliable electronic system to verify that all of our employees are authorized to work. That’s the only way to combat identity theft so that citizens and employers alike are protected from fraud.

Does that mean we endorse sanctions against employers? You bet. We support aggressive sanctions against businesses that deliberately flout the law – and will support them against those who continue to use unauthorized workers once more realistic immigration quotas are in place.

Bottom line: Congress must create a way for the foreign workers we need to keep Colorado businesses open and growing to enter the country legally.

Our state’s vast unauthorized workforce, the smuggling networks and forgery mills, the employers struggling to keep their businesses open and worrying about how to grow them as the economy picks up – the status quo is unacceptable.

In Colorado, business leaders are standing up to demand change. We hope our leaders in Washington are listening.

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