James Madison once wrote, "America was indebted to immigration for her settlement and prosperity. That part of America which had encouraged immigration most had advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture and the arts."
It's no wonder that New York City became the economic epicenter of the United States, and has been ever since. Over the past two centuries, our incredible diversity and the people who flocked here from around the world have given us a priceless competitive edge. I see it everyday in the faces of our educators, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, artists, and activists across New York's 14th District, from the East Village and Upper East Side to Astoria. This city of immigrants is the most vibrant in America, and arguably the most influential economy in the world.
That's why, as we emerge from the Great Recession, revamping our broken immigration system is more important than ever. Congress must work with the President to overhaul our immigration policies, which have resulted in turning away the best and brightest from our shores, endangering our security, and hurting our families. We don't need more promises that immigration reform will be addressed in the future. We need elected officials and advocates to roll up their sleeves and work together now, for the sake of our competitiveness, our national security, and our city.
The immigration reform plan that I will champion in Congress will achieve four crucial policy goals.
First, my plan for immigration reform will create jobs and spur innovation by removing restrictive barriers for highly skilled entrepreneurs to start companies and hire American workers. From 1995 to 2005, over 25 percent of technology companies started in the US had a key immigrant founder. These companies generated over $50 billion in sales and employed half a million Americans during that span. Immigrants are just 12 percent of our population but earn a staggering 47 percent of the nation's science and technology PhDs and file for 24 percent of US patents. Today, over 50 percent of the immigrants returning to India or China hold advanced degrees. The current work-visa system is outdated and counter-productive. We should lift the cap on H1-B and EB-5 work and investor visas and pass the "StartUp Visa" program, which keeps immigrant entrepreneurs, who commit to hire American workers and generate sales, right here in the United States.
Second, my reform agenda will address our staggering deficit and fiscal crisis. Creating a pathway towards legal status for the 12 million illegal immigrants in the US today would boost GDP by $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years. Implementing a guest worker program would add another $792 billion to GDP during the same period. While conservatives in the Arizona state legislature have pursued a deplorable policy of profile and deport, I think we need urgent national leadership to reframe the debate around cultural inclusion, economic competitiveness, and plain common sense. In fact, those who call for mass deportation are actually advocating a policy that would reduce GDP by $2.6 trillion over a decade. The economics of immigration reform are simple: moving illegal immigrants from our under-the-table economy to our above-the-table economy is smart fiscal policy for the nation.
Third, the immigration reform I am proposing will protect our citizens. As a representative of New York City, I will work to empower our law enforcement authorities with the resources needed to secure the homeland. In 2010, New York's share of the Department of Homeland Security Transit Security Grant Program - which funds sensors and bomb detecting equipment - fell by 28 percent. This is unacceptable. We must ensure that immigration reform legislation is matched with restored vigilance and increased counter-terrorism resources. We must also pass provisions for illegal immigrants who have critical witness information to come forward and help law enforcement personnel address street crimes and security threats. Securing our ports and borders, while at the same time bringing illegal immigrants out of the shadows, must be central to reform.
Finally, any immigration reform bill should strengthen our families and neighborhoods in two key ways.
Today, 3.1 million American children have at least one parent who is in the US illegally. When these parents are deported, either their families are torn apart or they take their children - whom US taxpayers have heavily invested in through education and public services - back to their home country. I support the DREAM Act, which offers a citizenship track to hard-working, undocumented children who graduate from US high schools and pursue college or military service. We must create a pathway to citizenship for these families without disrupting American children and their potential to contribute to our country.
I will also fight for passage of the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow US citizens in same-sex couples to sponsor their partners for legal immigration status. Estimates suggest that nearly 36,000 of these couples are at risk of being separated because one partner is not a citizen. I strongly believe that same-sex couples should be afforded the same rights as heterosexual Americans who can apply to sponsor their partner.
I am the daughter of political refugees. My family was forced to flee the brutal regime of Idi Amin after he ordered the mass expulsion of Indians from Uganda. They lost almost everything, and sought asylum from many countries, but were only offered that opportunity in the United States. My parents worked hard every single day to allow me to pursue my dreams - and America gave me the chance to succeed. I will fight tirelessly in Congress for comprehensive immigration reform to preserve and advance that opportunity for all.
Follow Reshma Saujani on Twitter: www.twitter.com/reshma2010