Leaders Call for Bipartisan Immigration Legislation at ABIC Summit
Republican and Democrat lawmakers, business leaders, and immigration advocates called on Congress to pass bipartisan immigration solutions next year during the Reigniting the Economic Engine: Immigration Solutions for 2021 summit hosted by the American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC).
One key message from the speakers was the need for lawmakers to work in a bipartisan manner in order to pass sensible immigration legislation.
“85% of voters including 94% of Democrats, 84% of Independents, and 73% of Republicans support the Dream Act. In a divided congress and a divided country, bipartisan solutions are required. No one party will be able to impose its goal on the other,” said Sam Scott, Ingredion Incorporated CEO.
“Perhaps a comprehensive bill can move forward. President Elect Biden has promised to send a bill to Congress on day one… or it might be passing confidence building measures that have bipartisan support, like a DREAM Act, a Farm Workforce Modernization Act, an essential workers bill, and rebuilding the economy…Bottom line, we really do not want another two years of absolutely no legislation moving forward, and each side blaming the other,” said Rebecca Shi Executive Director of ABIC.
Several Republican lawmakers called for the passage of immigration legislation involving DACA and improving legal pathways of immigration. They mostly favored a piecemeal approach to immigration reform.
“Immigration reform needs to be done piecemeal. Some of these things can be done in parallel, but comprehensive immigration reform is not going to work. The reason is, for every element of immigration, whether it’s agriculture, DACA, border security, or the undocumented, you have different coalitions of individuals you need to get to 218 in the House and the 60 vote threshold in the Senate,” said US Rep Will Hurd (R-TX), Co-Sponsor of the USA Act.
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) called for a legislative solution to DACA, improvements to the H2B visa program, and more immigration judges to improve immigration court backlogs. She highlighted the success of the Conrad 30 Waiver program, which helps to bring immigrant doctors to hospitals that need them.
“There are certain hospitals in rural areas of my state that could not operate without the doctors that come in on this program,” said Collins.
A key point of agreement and perhaps the most important first step for Republican lawmakers in attendance was the need for Congress to pass a legislative solution for DACA.
“I know there are many DACA recipients who have accomplished great things and I too would like to see us find a way to provide permanent legal status for those DACA recipients,” said Senator John Cornyn (R-TX).
“When President Obama introduced this program eight years ago, he did so through an executive memorandum. He did that in spite of the fact that many of us… pleaded with him not to do it, because we knew it would result in polarization and litigation. Rather than rolling up our sleeves and working with us to create lasting policy, the executive memorandum did not do that, it created a lot of uncertainty for the future of these immigrants who did nothing wrong. They came here as children, and the American system does not hold children responsible for the actions of their adult parents,” Cornyn added about DACA.
Republican lawmakers also added that the inclusion of border security measures in immigration legislation would help get more of their Republican colleagues in Congress on board.
“We can’t ignore border security if we’re going to get support from the Republican side of the aisle,” said Collins.
“The border is getting more secure… if you have that, it takes away from some of the opposition on the Republican side,” said Hurd, who called for “smart wall” technology and 600 innovative towers along the border.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-IL) called for bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform.
“We need to pass comprehensive immigration reform once and for all… I’ve always believed that immigration is an area where the Senate can find common ground. We have Democrats and Republicans speaking today, it's proof of that,” he said.
Speakers also discussed the US agriculture industry, which faces constant threats of offshoring as workforce shortages at home place it at a competitive disadvantage globally. They explained that the lack of workers and thus lack of ability of the US to produce its own food presents a national security risk.
“This is not only an economic issue, it’s also a national security issue… The question is: 'do we want to grow our food domestically?' If we do, we know that we’re going to need more people to deal in this industry. We cannot be in a situation where we depend on other countries for our food, therefore we need an ag system that works. It doesn’t work right now, so let’s sit down and come up with a solution,” said US Rep Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL).
In order to alleviate the national security risk that workforce shortages in the Ag industry pose to the US, several speakers in attendance called for Congress to pass legislation like the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which includes creating a method for certain unauthorized immigrant farm workers to earn their legal status.