A few days ago I stood with immigrants and faith leaders at the foot of the U.S. Capitol, the site of many rallies for immigration reform in recent years. But we weren't there to rally. Instead, we were gathered to pray and to fast for immigration reform. The next day, I was back at the Capitol, this time helping to deliver more than 11,000 pro-reform postcards to the House of Representatives. These postcards had been gathered by my organization from constituents in all 50 states, and they were in addition to the 10,000 we delivered this past summer.
I find it personally incomprehensible that the fight for comprehensive reform has gone on for so long when everyone agrees that our current system hurts immigrants and our entire nation. It is more than a cliché that we are a nation of immigrants. When did Washington forget that?
Who among us doesn't value our ethnic heritage? Where our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents came from, how they arrived here. We celebrate them in the foods we still eat, the traditions, artifacts and stories we still enjoy. I treasure a plate that belonged to my German grandmother along with the stories of my adventurous great-grandfather who left Spain at age 14 and immigrated to Denver by way of Cuba, where he learned the cigar-rolling trade.
These celebrations and memories weave our shared American history as a nation of people from around the globe who have come together to create a strong, diverse nation filled with energy and promise.
That very same energy and promise still brings immigrants to our shores. Immigrants and their children have founded 40% of Fortune 500 companies. Immigrants are entrepreneurs who create one-fourth of new businesses, providing many new jobs. People with diverse skills, backgrounds and talents strengthen our economy.
Some immigrants come at Americans' invitation to work in agriculture and a variety of businesses. Those who are undocumented are here on average for more than 10 years - working, paying taxes and contributing to our communities. Many came as children and grew up with us. They are our neighbors' and our children's friends. They total some 11 million contributing members of our communities.
Arguments for quick action to reform our immigration system are compelling.
First of all, it is all about fiscal responsibility: legal wages that will raise our standard of living rather than depressing wages for everyone else. Fairer wages will mean more buying power and a bigger tax base. Increased income tax revenue will help address our nation's debt as it also increases revenue at local and state levels. Immigrants with higher wages will have more purchasing power, which translates into more tax revenue from the businesses they frequent. Immigrants create opportunity, prosperity and productivity for the 100%.
But if these fiscally responsible arguments aren't enough to make the case, then consider this: More than 5,100 children whose parents are undocumented immigrants are in the U.S. foster care system because their parents have either been detained or deported.
We are a country that speaks loudly about the value of family. We all know that when families are together, individuals are happier, healthier and more productive. If undocumented immigrants without a path to citizenship continue to be deported, up to 15,000 children could be in the foster care system by 2016. Even if our nation's child welfare departments had the resources to handle this increase, stripping children from loving parents is unconscionable - and antithetical to our nation's values.
As Americans who find joy in our family heritages and faith traditions, we really have only one choice: Commonsense immigration reform that makes our entire nation stronger.
So why then hasn't it happened? Politics and fear-mongering are two major reasons. In today's highly partisan Congress, reform opponents use any tool available to stop it from happening. They assert (wrongly) that our southern borders are porous and in need of stronger barriers. And they use language such as "amnesty" and "illegal" to scare people into believing that reform means millions of people paying no price for having broken our laws, with the promise of many more to come.
These claims are both false, and opposition to reform flies in the face of our nation's values. Not passing immigration reform means that each day, children are being ripped from the arms of parents, new talent is being shunned at our shores, and the entrepreneurial spirit is being squashed. This is not the American way.
Many faith traditions, including my own, teach that each person is created in the image and likeness of God. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and to be valued by everyone. Our nation's founding vision tells us that "We the People" are called to establish justice and fairness for all. Commonsense immigration reform is a vital step in that process. And the time is now.