It is faith-restoring to see that, despite Congress’ historic partisan divide, bipartisan leaders can put fear aside and do what is in the nation’s best interest.  The sweeping Comprehensive Immigration Reform (“CIR”) bill, S.744, the brainchild of the politically courageous bipartisan “Gang of Eight”, in which Senator Marco Rubio is a key player, was recently approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and is now heading to the Senate floor.

Godspeed, I say, as CIR is GOOD for America and particularly GOOD for Florida.  This not just a liberal talking point, but rather the reasoned conclusion of a significant number of conservative, liberal and nonpartisan research organizations.

So, why is an overhaul of our hopelessly antiquated, broken and fundamentally flawed immigration system good for us?  Here is why:

Research shows that the overall effect of CIR, including legalizing undocumented immigrants, would provide a substantial economic boost to the U.S. economy.  According to Credit Suisse, the economic gains of immigration reform far outweigh the potential costs, by providing a $1.5 trillion benefit to the GDP over ten years, along with a $66 billion boost in federal tax collection.  This conclusion was just echoed in a letter to Congress from the American Action Forum, signed by 111 economists, which states: “Immigration reform’s positive impact on population growth, labor force growth, housing, and other markets will lead to more rapid economic growth.  This, in turn, translates into a positive impact on the Federal budget”.

According to a Center for American Progress study, the benefits of legalizing Florida’s undocumented population over a ten year period would be a cumulative increase in Gross State Product of $55,300,300,000 and the creation of some 8,000 new jobs.

The wages of native born U.S. workers will also increase as a result of legalizing undocumented immigrants because the “wage floor” will rise for all workers, particularly in industries where large numbers of easily exploited, low-wage, unauthorized immigrants currently work.  According to a report by the American Immigration Council, U.S. workers would experience total income gains of over $30 billion per year.

The U.S. economy will benefit from S.744’s provisions which will assist more entrepreneurs, business investors and foreign nationals who earn advanced degrees in STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and math) to immigrate here.  In the last decade, high tech professional immigrants have made extraordinary contributions to our country, including establishing almost one quarter of Silicon Valley firms.  These highly educated individuals are those who may have the “next great idea”.  Such reform would give a boost to Orlando, one of the fastest-growing high tech centers in the nation.

The reform provisions in S.744 relating to agricultural workers and lesser-skilled workers in short supply in the United States will greatly assist in creating a work force that contributes to our economic security by providing U.S. employers with access to workers with the specific skills necessary to strengthen the economy.  Our current ability to bring in foreign workers representing a range of skill levels is extremely limited and outdated.  In Florida, where agriculture, tourism and construction drive our economy, having a reliable and legal workforce is essential.

Immigration reform is good for families.  Our current system has caused families to be kept or sometimes ripped apart.  Family members wait abroad for sometimes decades waiting for their turn in the queue.  Undocumented parents are being deported and thereby separated from American-born children and spouses.  Young undocumented people are being sent back to the countries they were born in after being raised in the United States.  CIR will put an end to much of this needless suffering.  This is especially important in our State, where approximately 20% of our population is foreign-born.

Lastly, but most importantly, immigration reform is good for America as it is consistent with who we are as a people.  We are a country founded upon principles of hope, inclusion and opportunity for anyone willing to work hard for it.  We must not allow fear mongering, a distortion of the facts and xenophobia to defeat this exceptional opportunity for immigration reform.  Such reform is not only good for those foreign-born persons who directly benefit from it, but good for us all.

Written by Deborah J. Townsend, Advocacy Chair/Co-Chair, Central Florida Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association