11/13/2007 06:57 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's Time to Get It Right on Immigration

A few weeks ago I delivered a speech in Arizona on comprehensive immigration reform. As a border state with a large immigrant population, Arizona is a flash point in the national immigration reform debate. It's also an example of the negative consequences of Congress' failure to pass federal comprehensive immigration reform.

Like several other states and localities, Arizona is filling a void left by the federal government and devising its own immigration policy. Its law, scheduled to take effect January 1, 2008, includes mandatory compliance with a pilot employment verification system, which is voluntary under federal law. It also includes the prospect of businesses having their licenses revoked without a hearing. The U.S. Chamber is challenging the constitutionality of Arizona's law in court.

Through the middle of this year, no fewer than 1,400 pieces of legislation related to immigration had been introduced among the 50 state legislatures. Of these bills, 182 in 43 states became law--most of which are contradictory, probably unconstitutional, and nearly impossible for businesses to follow. This action reinforces the need for a balanced, comprehensive federal solution that embraces the following four principles.

First, Congress and the president should act immediately to address the pressing shortage of visas. The number of available visas for high- and low-skilled workers is simply insufficient to meet our workforce needs. We must also ease business traveler restrictions while maintaining security.

Second, we need the systems, technologies, and infrastructure to secure our borders and give businesses the tools they need to easily and accurately verify the eligibility of their employees.

Third, we must recognize that a large part of the solution to our longer-term immigration and border challenges is the continued economic development of Mexico and Latin America. The United States can help by supporting economic reform, free markets, and democracy in those countries. Fewer of their citizens will feel pressured to immigrate to the United States if there are good jobs in their own countries. At the same time, there will still be enough workers from Mexico and Latin America to meet our needs.

Finally, we should not stop the flow of immigrants to our country but, rather, allow it to continue and even expand--prudently, sensibly, and lawfully. We need workers, and it makes far greater sense to normalize the undocumented immigrants already here than to send them back and start over.

So far, our nation has failed at immigration reform. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, Americans always do what is necessary and what is right--after trying everything else first. It's time to get it right on immigration.