Las Cruces Sun-News: OP-ED: Immigration fix a priority for New Mexico

By:  U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and U.S. Senator Tom Udall

New Mexico's remarkable spirit is rooted in our diversity, our history, and our culture, which has always been enriched by our immigrant communities and family members. At the same time, the laws that govern our country's immigration system are antiquated and ineffective.

Fixing our broken immigration system is an urgent priority -- especially for our state.

Earlier this summer, we took action in the Senate to do something about it. We found common ground and passed a pragmatic and bipartisan bill that includes a visa system that meets the needs of our economy, a tough but fair path to earned citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in our country who are undocumented, and a plan that ensures security at our borders.

We are especially pleased that the Senate bill provides a special pathway to citizenship to the undocumented children of immigrants. We have met many of these students, known as DREAMers. They represent much of what's best about our nation: hard work, motivation, and a willingness to serve this country in uniform. DREAMers are bright, inspiring, and most of them don't know how to be anything but an American. Under the Senate bill, these students would be able to gain more education and training, which translates into better and higher-paying jobs. All of these extra wages will circulate through the economy, spurring economic growth and new job creation.

However, the Republican-led House has failed to act on a similarly comprehensive overhaul, and as a result, is failing the American people. Despite support from various Republican leaders including former President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain, and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, the lack of consensus among House Republicans is disappointing. Instead of coming together to do what's right, what's fair, and what the majority of Americans support, House Republicans are looking for every excuse to put up roadblocks, kill the progress we have made, and demonize immigrants.

There's been a lot of commentary in the news lately about how to "win the Hispanic vote." Fixing our broken immigration system is so much more than that -- especially for a border state like ours.

A more efficient immigration and visa system will provide our employers the workforce they need and build our economy, while also protecting American jobs and wages. Our current visa program makes it difficult for farmers to hire the workers they need and sends some of our most talented students back to their countries of origin where they find themselves competing against American jobs rather than helping to create American jobs. And the labor pool comprised of millions of undocumented people allows for worker exploitation and low wages.

The independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its report showing that passing the Senate bipartisan immigration reform bill would reduce budget deficits by $197 billion over the next decade, and about $700 billion in the second decade.

The recent CBO report offers compelling evidence that accountable immigration reform is good for our economy, our workforce, and the future of our middle class. It debunks the notion from critics that reform would hurt our economy. These numbers also make clear that passing accountable immigration reform would not only reduce the deficit, but also substantially increase our country's GDP.

This is encouraging data, and it affirms our commitment to creating a fair immigration system that keeps families together, encourages our science, technology, engineering, and mathematics leaders to be future entrepreneurs, while continuing to strengthen our border security.

We have made great advances in border security in recent years. We have more agents, technology and infrastructure devoted to our border than ever before. Our challenge moving forward is to continue to ensure our nation's safety, while balancing the need of our border communities to thrive and benefit from their unique bi-national culture and economy. However, in the Paso del Norte region, which includes West Texas and southern New Mexico, not all of our ports of entry are operating at full capacity and the high volume of vehicles attempting to cross at the ports of entry makes it extremely difficult for Customs and Border Protection to efficiently service all would-be crossers while also maintaining security.

To this end, we are working to improve infrastructure at the Columbus Port of Entry and to extend the hours of operation at the Santa Teresa Port of Entry. Longer hours and updated facilities would lead to more efficient trade between the United States and Mexico, grow our economy, create new jobs, and invest in border security efforts at our nation's ports.

On the subject of increased commerce, we'd like to thank Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano for doing her part. Last month, she announced a plan to extend the border commercial zone in southern New Mexico. This initiative was initially spearheaded by former U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman at the federal level and it received bipartisan unanimous support in the New Mexico State Legislature. Increasing the number of visitors traveling to the region will help U.S. businesses, local economies, and bring in more tax revenue.

When it comes to fixing our nation's immigration system, the Senate has shown that compromise and even bipartisanship are possible. Our country is strong because of rigorous debate -- but debate doesn't mean endless gridlock. Despite our differences, this is an issue on which both parties can come together and find common ground.

New Mexicans are eager for a solution, DREAM Act students deserve a solution, and our economy requires a solution. We must achieve accountable immigration reform that works for New Mexico and the country, and we call on the House Republicans to pass the Senate bipartisan proposal. Este es el año.