07/14/2014 02:52 pm ET Updated Sep 13, 2014

Immigration Reform isn't Dead


With news out of Washington that Speaker John Boehner is refusing to schedule a vote on the floor of the House on comprehensive immigration reform, many are declaring immigration reform a lost cause.

That's not acceptable.

The reason lies in how important this issue is to the economy of Illinois, the Midwest, and the country as a whole. In response, a diverse coalition of leading business groups have joined together to urge our elected representatives for action on comprehensive immigration reform. We can significantly boost our economy by enacting meaningful reform.

Over the last 28 years, I not only built successful business enterprises but also advised and helped other businesses grow, create jobs, and prosper. I'm a proud member of the Illinois Business Immigrant Coalition, and I have spent the last 18 months working hard to help create solutions to fix our broken immigration system. I know a good deal when I see one, and the failure of our elected leaders to fully embrace comprehensive immigration reform speaks volumes about their fundamental blind spots as stewards of our nation's economic policies.

Fortunately, the American people recognize this need. According to a Pew Research Center Survey conducted earlier this year, 76% of Americans say people currently in the country illegally should be eligible for citizenship if they meet certain requirements.

They know that if the people who have risked everything to come here and raise a family are unable to contribute fully to our economy, it is held back.

There are 11 million people stuck in the shadows today. They are unable to take the risks most of us enjoy when it comes to owning a home, purchasing an automobile, or starting a business due to fear and limited access to capital. Last year, immigrant entrepreneurs started 28% of all new businesses despite representing just 13% of the U.S. population.

Further, we're not treating our businesses fairly in enforcing existing law. Immigration reform, by combining a path to citizenship with a crackdown on illegal hiring, will reward honest businesses and address the problem of cost cutting that leads to poor quality and dangerous conditions. Instead of hiring undocumented workers to undercut wages and drive down standards, comprehensive immigration reform will ensure workers will have full labor rights, resulting in higher wages across the board.

Comprehensive immigration reform would also allow American companies to field a diverse array of talent that no other country can match. In the economy of the twenty-first century, that's an advantage we can't afford to miss. Why would we train some of the best workers in the world at our universities and then send them back as soon as they finish their education?

Finally, reform grows our economy and cuts our deficit. Studies estimate the recently passed Senate Bill would yield $1.5 trillion in increased GDP over 10 years. By creating 900,000 new jobs we might as well call comprehensive immigration reform a comprehensive jobs bill.

Those who are concerned about state and federal budget deficits will be heartened to know that, according to the Congressional Budget Office, comprehensive immigration reform would decrease the federal deficit by almost $1 trillion and increase tax revenue to the states by almost $750 billion over the next 20 years -- again good for business and for the economy.

Comprehensive immigration reform is vital to our long-term economic security. It will contribute to an efficient, consistent and reliable skilled workforce. It will benefit employers, businesses, and our state. No lawmaker in Illinois should be against this issue, especially a member of Congress who purports to care about our economy.

A discharge petition currently sits in the House of Representatives signed by 192 members of Congress. There are six members from Illinois who have not signed and every Illinois member who has should work diligently to acquire more signatures from their colleagues.

Going through the motions is not enough this time. Not now when we are 25 signatures away from a vote on the floor. Not when our economy so desperately needs a boost.

The President is right to take unilateral action to bring humanity and intelligence to the mess that Congress has left of trying to reform this system.

But he cannot do it alone. Nobody should allow immigration reform to die this year. It is too important to our economy for us to let it go. Our representatives in Illinois must step up to the plate to get this done.

John Atkinson is a resident of Burr Ridge and an executive at Willis Insurance.