Wisconsin's First District Congressman Paul Ryan took part in the National Association of Manufacturers' town-hall event on immigration reform. Ryan joined NAM president and CEO Jay Timmons, economist Doug Holtz-Eakin, and others to discuss how immigration reform could benefit businesses and manufacturers.
The Principles of Immigration Reform
"It's an economic-security issue and a national-security issue. In the post--9/11 environment, we've got to get real security on our border. We have to have a visa-tracking system so we know . . . who is coming and when they left and whether or not they've overstayed their visas. So there's a national-security component to this that the status quo simply is unsustainable.
"There's an economic component that Jay Timmons was talking about. And it's not just the Ph.D computer engineer, which is very important, they produce jobs and growth. It's the dairy farmer in western Wisconsin who needs labor. It's the manufacturer. It's the hospitality industry in the Wisconsin Dells in the summer season--the nursery growers. There are pockets in the sector of this slow economy that really need work and labor.
"And then there's the melting pot--the American idea--the idea in this country that the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life--that if you come here and put your hand over your heart, and you pledge allegiance to the American flag, we want you. We want people who are dedicated to this country. We want people who are dedicated to the idea that built this country. That idea is still here, and so we have to have an immigration system that makes sense."
The Reason to Fix Our Immigration System
"My motivation--and I think the vast majority of Republicans' motivation--is we believe in the rule of law. We believe that we need to have better security of our border. And we want to make sure that we have laws that are adhered and followed, and we believe in economic growth. And when we've got baby boomers retiring--when we've got 10,000 people retiring every day, as they will be for 10 years coming--we're going to need people.
"And when I look at this from an economics standpoint, our birthrates are pretty good compared to our peers around the world. But they're not where they need to be. Immigration will help improve that, so that we have the labor we need to get the economic growth that we want, so that America can be a fast-growing economy in the 21st century. Immigration helps us get the labor force that we need so that we can have the kind of growth we want. And you can't say the same for many other countries--be it China, Japan, or Europe. And I think this is a critical component of economic growth."
Prospects for Immigration Reform in the House
"I think we will go into conference with immigration reform. How big and broad it is--the House will work its will and we'll find out. The group that we have in the House I think has been extremely constructive. I think the border language that we've got, the rule-of-law language that we have would be a great improvement on the Senate product. So I think we'll show, perhaps on some of these issues, better language from my perspective, from the Republicans' perspective, on how to approach these issues."
Illegal Immigrants Will Not Become a "Public Charge'
"First of all, all the bills we're talking about--the House bill--you can't be a public charge. So, a person who's in probationary status or even five years on a green card cannot get access to public benefits, be they food stamps, welfare, or Obamacare subsidies. . . .
"Whether the House or the Senate goes first--you're not going to be having benefits that are taxpayer funded going to undocumented or people who are on probation. That's not going to happen. And so then the person is out there with no health insurance, and the only thing they can buy is something that costs $12,000 to $15,000 dollars a year. Pick your estimate. I think the real answer there . . . is let that person buy catastrophic health insurance. Let it be written--underwritten--so that catastrophic health insurance can be sold to them, so they can get affordable health insurance so that they don't become a public charge."
The Need for "Earned Legalization'
"Earned legalization is not amnesty. I will debate anybody who tries to suggest that these ideas that are moving through Congress are amnesty. They're not. Amnesty is wiping the slate clean and not paying any penalty for having done something wrong. Nobody's suggesting that that takes place. . . .
"The idea is, a person gets a probationary status so that they come out of the shadows. They get right with the law, and during that probationary status, they will have paid a fine. They will pay back taxes. We'll make sure that they're not a convicted felon. They'll take civics classes. They'll learn English. They'll get right with the law. And then, after the probationary status expires, and after everybody who did everything right--who was already in the line--gets through the line, only until then--when they're put at the back of the line--can they consider a status readjustment. This could take as long as 15 years if a person aspires to be a citizen with what we're looking at in the House. That is not amnesty."