By Sen. Mark Warner
Our nation's broken immigration system is a drag on the economy and a barrier to innovation. Fixing this fragmented, unfair system has been a priority for me.
I was one of the first governors of Virginia to work closely with immigrant communities around the commonwealth. I believed then, as I do now, that immigrants continue to embody the American Dream as they have since the founding of our nation. Today, these communities wield more than $33 billion in combined consumer purchasing power, and immigrant-owned businesses employ an estimated 126,000 Virginians.
Over the past several months, a bipartisan group of Senate negotiators known as the Gang of Eight has worked to craft a comprehensive immigration reform bill. I am proud to support this compromise approach to reform.
We now have a unique opportunity to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package that protects American workers, improves border enforcement, establishes a more effective identity verification process and provides a reasonable pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who already live and work in America. These reforms should be no-brainers.
This legislation includes key priorities I have championed in the Senate, including the creation of a new "STEM" visa for high-skilled graduates of American universities. The U.S. will need approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than we're producing on our own at current rates. Failure to adequately meet this demand could put American businesses at a competitive disadvantage for years.
The bipartisan Senate proposal also makes sensible reforms to the H1-B program often utilized by tech companies.
But to only resolve issues with high-skill immigration is not enough. Our economy is diverse, and it relies on different types of skills and jobs. We need a comprehensive policy approach in order to enact reasonable reforms for agricultural workers, for the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here, and for the millions of children called Dreamers who have only ever known the U.S. as home.
If we only address border security or high-skill immigration reform, we're missing the opportunity to get at the underlying issues that created our current challenges.
It is estimated that 40 percent of illegal immigration can be tied to visa overstays by people who legally immigrated to the U.S. Right now, we don't have a way to deal with this problem. We also have very limited means of helping employers verify that they are hiring legally authorized workers. These are major issues we can only resolve through comprehensive reform.
We have always struggled with, debated and then resolved America's challenges around immigration. It is my hope that Congress will follow that tradition and enact comprehensive immigration reform this year.