Republicans are Squandering Billions by Not Giving Immigrants a Pathway to Citizenship

Authored by Miguel “Mike” B. Fernandez and originally published by the Miami Herald.

On Christmas Day 1964, the Cuban military seized my father’s businesses and forced my family to leave our home. We came to the United States as undocumented immigrants.

I started my career cleaning monkey feces out of the cages of the animals that were used in experiments at a New York psychiatric hospital. Later, I stepped up to cleaning spittoons and bedpans in the tuberculosis ward at a VA hospital. After serving in the U.S. Army, I started selling insurance door-to-door in Miami.

A lot of doors were slammed in my face, but I kept knocking, just like millions of immigrants who come to this country. Since those beginnings, I started or was the majority shareholder of 25 healthcare companies. Until 2016 I contributed tens of millions to Republican candidates — but not a penny since then. 

I lived the American Dream because Cubans benefitted from generous immigration policies and an easy path to citizenship. Congress needs to pass common-sense immigration solutions with pathways to citizenship for DREAMers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, farmworkers, essential workers and other immigrants like me. Fifty leading economists told Congress that legalization and citizenship will grow our GDP by $1.5 trillion, raise the annual wages of all workers by $600 and create more than 400,000 new jobs over the next decade. 

Overwhelmingly, the American people want this month’s budget reconciliation bill to provide permanent status for immigrants who lack it. A new bipartisan poll of battleground voters finds 3-to-1 support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants as part of the reconciliation bill. There is strong support for the reforms, even if they are advanced by only one party. Voters — even Trump supporters — want to get this done.

Cuban Americans, who have built South Florida into an economic powerhouse, are not unique. If Congress gives them a pathway to citizenship, Mexicans will do the same. Venezuelans, Haitians and Hondurans will all do the same. They want the same things that the Italians, Irish and Germans wanted when they came to America. My fellow Cuban Americans, Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, know this is true.

Those of us in the business community wanted an immigration bill that was bipartisan, but Republicans in the Senate chose hate instead of prosperity. The bipartisan American Business Immigration Coalition, which I co-chair, met with 41 Republican senators and hosted 54 bipartisan events that included both Democratic and Republican senators to reach a compromise — to no avail. Somewhere along the line, they stopped being “opportunity for all” Republicans and started being “scapegoat the immigrants” Republicans. 

It has been 35 years since Congress updated our immigration laws. Voters in both parties are tired of waiting and want solutions. Senate Democrats need to come out swinging and act courageously. Republicans need to stop being held hostage by a minority of their party. Right now, Republicans are spitting on the migrant farmworker who is picking their tomatoes. Maybe she can’t vote, but someday her kids will. They will remember who helped and who hurt their mom.

Republicans are beginning to pay a price for not getting on board with immigration solutions. A recent poll found that almost half of Venezuelan Americans in Florida will not support Rubio and Scott if they don’t support permanent legal status for Venezuelan and other immigrants who are here with TPS. Not long ago, these same Venezuelans helped carry Florida for Donald Trump. Do you remember when Ronald Reagan provided legal status for 3 million undocumented immigrants? That’s the Republican Party I remember. 

The need is urgent, and the budget reconciliation bill is the vehicle to use. If Congress joins with us and passes immigration reform, we are going to build the greatest economy — with the most freedom and opportunity — that this country has ever seen. Take it from the kid who used to clean monkey cages. 

Miguel “Mike” B. Fernandez is the chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners, L.P., a private investment firm located in Coral Gables, Florida. He is the co-chair of the American Business Immigration Coalition (ABIC), which represents 1,200 CEOs and employers promoting common sense immigration solutions, and the founder of the Impac Fund, the Florida Chapter of ABIC.


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