SALT LAKE CITY — Less than a week after the 2012 election, our national debate has shifted from one where we choose between two candidates, to one where we discuss paths forward on issues that impact our lives. For that we can all be thankful.
After such a long and grueling campaign season, we the American voters, in our infinite wisdom, decided to keep things exactly as they were: a Republican House, a Democratic Senate and President Barak Obama in the White House.
They say the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. But I choose to believe the message sent to our elected officials was this: get something done, already.
And you may be surprised to realize one of the first issues primed to be resolved in a bipartisan manner.
Now, we certainly have more pressing issues. The looming "Fiscal Cliff" must be our top priority. President Obama's re-election shows that, at least to some degree, there is confidence building among the general population in the economic recovery. But even the most optimistic economists will tell you our recovery has been sluggish and remains fragile.
So first, we have to deal with the economy. But immigration could be the perfect opportunity for both parties to come together and show the American people they can cooperate to get something done. The best part is they can also give our economy the shot in the arm it so desperately needs.
Just look at the movement on this issue since the presidential race was called. We have already heard the President declare immigration reform an issue he wants to address with leaders of both parties in Congress. A few days later, Speaker of the House John Boehner said it was time to "get the job done" on immigration reform. Perhaps as importantly, as the Speaker's movement on the issue, was the evolution of conservative radio host Sean Hannity, who now favors a "pathway to citizenship." Most improbably, just a few days ago Rand Paul, a Tea Party leader, embraced a pathway to citizenship.
Our nation faces a number of complex issues, but immigration brings out strong reactions from both sides of the bell curve. But because there is so much room in the moderate, rational middle portion of that bell, and because we will never have more time before the ever-impending "next election" than we do right now, this is the perfect time to resolve the issue once and for all.
And make no mistake about it; immigration reform has the potential to provide a shot in the arm to our sluggish economic growth.
According to a report released by the American Enterprise Institute and the Partnership for a New American Economy establishes four facts:
Immigrants with advanced degrees boost employment for U.S. natives.
Economists and policy wonks have long understood the fallacy of the argument that immigrants take jobs from American workers. In limited circumstances it does happened, but overall a strong immigrant workforce strengthens our economy. The study shows that "for every 100 foreign-born workers in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) with advanced degrees from U.S. universities" generates "an additional 262 jobs among U.S. natives."
Temporary foreign workers boost U.S. employment.
Getting a visa can be an overwhelming prospect for a potential worker, and completely frustrating for a business in need of labor. The study shows states with the highest number of workers with temporary work visas have the lowest unemployment rates among U.S. natives.
There is no evidence that, taken in the aggregate, foreign-born workers hurt U.S. employment.
The study shows, "The results… do not indicate that immigration leads to fewer jobs for U.S. natives."
Highly educated immigrants pay far more in taxes than they receive in benefits.
According to the study, "In 2009, the average foreign-born adults with an advanced degree paid over $22,500 in federal, state, and FICA taxes, while their families received benefits one-tenth that size…"
So what does that all mean?
It means we face global competition and we can no longer afford to educate the best and brightest from other countries only to send them off to power our competition for decades to come. It means we must rebuild our immigration system to not only bring the hardest working, the most driven and the smartest to America, but to embrace them as part of what makes our country great.
At its core, immigration is an economic issue and the numbers show we benefit from the talent we draw here—but not nearly as much as we could.
In Utah, we have led on this issue. This past Sunday we marked the second anniversary of the signing of The Utah Compact, a document consisting of five principles to guide our immigration discussion. The Compact covers a lot of ground in just 214 words, urging policy makers to take into account the impact any legislation will have on law enforcement efforts, families, the economy and our state and national reputations. Two years after its signing, it has become more evident than ever before that the writers hit the nail on the head declaring immigration a federal issue and acknowledging the role immigrants play in our economy.
Leaders in both parties should see the benefit to their caucuses and constituents of addressing immigration reform. It's always been the right thing to do, and now just might be the right time to do it.