It’s not often we witness Colorado’s high-tech innovators, third-generation farmers, prominent business executives, traditional faith leaders, aspiring young immigrants and leading law enforcement officials uniting behind a common cause.
It is even less likely in Washington, D.C., for Republicans and Democrats from across the nation to come together to tackle a complex national crisis and write a landmark bill with bipartisan support.
The long and tireless work of these unlikely allies culminated in the immigration bill the United States Senate passed with a broad, bipartisan vote earlier this summer.
The bill will strengthen our economy and secure our borders. It will establish a sensible and rational system for the flow of future immigrants, put in place a process to reunite families and provide a tough but fair path to citizenship for millions of people who came to this country for a better life but are living in the shadows of our society.
The long road to Senate passage began for our office roughly two years ago with the Colorado Compact. We brought together people from throughout the state of different backgrounds, industries and perspectives to talk about the challenges of the current immigration system. Every member of this diverse coalition shared their frustration with our current immigration system and said that it was fundamentally broken.
Traveling around Colorado you’ll see these frustrations exemplified.
Farmers on the Western Slopes and Eastern Plains watch their crops wither on the vines because they can’t hire the workers they need to harvest them. Ski resorts and our tourism industry struggle with an unworkable system for their seasonal workers. Start-up and high-tech business owners watch as we educate the world’s best and brightest in our schools of higher ed and graduate programs only to send them back to their own countries, where we then spend the next 20 years competing against them for the ideas and intellectual property our schools help instill in them.
The Senate immigration bill streamlines the visa system and aligns it with the needs of our businesses, while still protecting American workers and jobs.
Our flawed system has also left 11 million people in the shadows with few options and no opportunity. That’s bad for our economy as Americans try to compete with undocumented workers who are often paid under the table, driving salaries down. It’s also bad for families, when parents live in fear of being deported and separated from their American-born kids.
The tough but fair path to citizenship in the Senate bill provides a sensible solution. Undocumented immigrants must pay taxes, pay a fine, learn English and stay out of trouble with the law to access this path, which can’t be completed until the bill’s border security measures are in place.
The border security measures were crafted under the leadership of Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, Republicans from Arizona. If anyone knows a thing or two about what it’s like to live next to a border, and what border security our nation needs, it’s these two. The border security measures include unprecedented steps to make our borders stronger than ever: doubling the number of border agents, completing 700 miles of fencing and adding new technology to provide 100 percent surveillance.
As a member of the group of eight lawmakers who drafted this bill, I am grateful for the input and feedback Coloradans gave us during the process. We came together to fix a broken system and address one of our nation’s major challenges. Now, we’re on the doorstep of success; Colorado needs the House of Representatives to take action and pass a bill so we can solve these problems for our economy and our communities.
Michael Bennet is a Democrat who has represented Colorado in the U.S. Senate since 2009.