03/31/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Now Is the Time to Step on the Gas on Immigration Reform

"Immigration Overhaul Still a Priority of Senate Democratic Leaders" - CQ

This week, President Obama called on Congress to transcend the petty politics of division in order to bring about the bold solutions that America's working families desperately need. It is that same readiness to dig deep and seek transformational -- not just transactional -- change that made millions of us flock to the polls in 2008. And today it's that very same si se puede attitude that America needs to get comprehensive immigration reform done and get it done right in 2010.

As we get to work in the critical months ahead, there is no question that creating quality jobs, restoring economic fairness and ensuring every American has access to affordable healthcare must be our top priorities. But as it becomes increasingly clear, none of these goals can be achieved over the long-term unless we get serious about fixing an outdated, unenforceable, and increasingly costly broken immigration system.

Simply put: we can't build a strong economy on top of a broken immigration system. We cannot restore fairness to U.S. workers or build stability in the labor market until we eliminate today's underground economy of undocumented workers. We cannot restore America's greatness until we build an immigration system equipped to deal with the economy of our future.

Because of Washington's failure to act over decades, the same U.S. economy that has been built on an unsustainable bubble of reckless risk and short-term profit schemes has also been built with the cheap labor of unauthorized workers. The result? These workers--many of whom have lived and worked in the U.S. for decades--are easily exploited, which drives down wages and standards for all of us.

Until we fix this deep-rooted problem, the same bad actors who brought us to the brink of economic collapse will continue to game the system for their own economic gain. Taxpayers who pay their full and fair share will be undercut by workers and employers who do not. Employers who pay decent wages, offer good benefits, and follow all the rules will be weakened by unprincipled employers.

Like fiscal reform, healthcare reform and our expansion into a clean energy economy, shortcuts and band-aid approaches to immigration reform bear no real fruit. Estimated to cost well over $200 billion, the act of deporting 12 million people is a logistical impossibility that the vast majority of Americans do not support. Likewise, border and workplace enforcement without broader reform is a waste of taxpayer money that has failed time and time again.

Instead, every day that Washington fails to deliver a real solution, we will continue to see a rise in hate crimes, heightened fears and growing divisions in our communities. This is not the path to restore America's greatness.

On the other hand, we do have another choice. Comprehensive immigration reform--getting undocumented immigrants into the system and under the rule of law; passing smart enforcement on the border and in our workplaces; and creating a visa system that protects labor rights and meets the economic needs of our future--would do more than end today's suffering. It would also fuel economic growth at a time when we most need it. According to a recent Immigration Policy Center and Center for American Progress report, comprehensive immigration reform would add $1.5 trillion to the U.S. GDP over 10 years. It would drive up wages and standards for all workers, and support nearly a million jobs.

Of course, as Obama said last night, sweeping change is never easy.

But it is necessary.

The American public is clear about their priorities. Recent polling data shows once again that two-thirds of voters support comprehensive immigration reform--including 67 percent of Independents and 62 percent of Republicans. This undeniable eagerness for reform is re-enforced by the hundreds of thousands of Americans--immigrant and non-immigrant alike--who have joined rallies, signed petitions, and reached out to lawmakers in mobilizations across the country in recent weeks.

We all saw a glimpse of these activists' strength last fall when an enormous, coordinated effort helped to oust anti-immigrant and former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs off the airwaves. There is more underneath the tip of that iceberg. In the comings months, diverse labor unions, faith groups, immigrant rights activists, and business leaders will join our President and concerned American workers across the country to push for comprehensive reform.

We will not be deterred by the same cynics who have made Washington synonymous with inaction, partisan pettiness and self-interest. This is our time to, in Obama's words, "overcome the numbing weight of our politics."

For the good of our economy, of America's workers, and of our country, it's time to overcome. It's time to get immigration reform done right; to get it done quickly; and to make sure it works for America.