01/27/2014 12:18 pm ET Updated Mar 29, 2014

Immigration and 'Us' vs. 'Them'

This week's State of the Union speech is the beginning of President Obama's final push for immigration reform. It may be his biggest fight yet, and the way it ends will say a lot about who we are as Americans.

Few issues have been as difficult for our nation to address as immigration, and the reason for that is in part because we are confused about who "we" are and who "they" are.

As background, in June the Senate passed a bipartisan plan which included provisions for a rigorous pathway to citizenship for the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.

House leaders almost immediately rejected the senate plan, and instead claim they will pass a number of new measures mostly focused on border security and visas for high-skilled foreign workers.

In an effort to appeal to those who oppose reform, the president's speech will largely focus on the proven economic benefits of immigration reform, and those benefits are sweeping. The Senate immigration reform bill will increase real GDP relative to current law projections by 3.3 percent in 2023 and 5.4 percent in 2033.

The reason the economic benefit is so significant? Immigrants are some of the hardest working and innovative people in America.

According to the Partnership for A New American Economy:

  • Immigrants started 28 percent of all new U.S. businesses despite accounting for only 13 percent of the U.S. population in 2011.
  • More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants.
  • These American companies represent seven of the 10 most valuable brands globally, collectively employ more than 10 million people and generate annual revenue of 4.2 trillion.

Let's hope that these economic arguments get the attention of House Republicans. But if looking at the facts doesn't convince them, I would urge them to look somewhere else -- at their own family tree.

Why is that? Because every single House Republican -- except one -- is either an immigrant or descendent of immigrants.

Who's the exception? Tom Cole, proud member of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma and the only Native American in Congress.

House Republicans should sit down with grandma and ask her about her grandfather. Take dad for a walk and ask him about his grandmother. In a few conversations they will remember that their family, like mine, likely came through Ellis Island or Castle Gardens, or one of the many other hopeful gateways to the American dream.

Maybe in that moment of reflection they will realize that the Mexican who crossed our southern border today hoping to pick our fruit, or the Indian who finally received the Visa he needs to work at Google has more in common with them than they had thought.

Maybe they will realize that "we" are "them." Maybe they will see that the unrelenting desire to become American often creates the best Americans of all.