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Updated Apr 24, 2013 - 4:47 pm

Welcoming and legalizing immigrants, an investment in America’s future

President Obama
had it right when he
outlined his federal
reform proposal earlier
this year and stated
that immigration, at its
core, is about people;
adding that we must
not forget that “we
used to be them.”

In other words, “we”
Americans, with the exception of Native
Americans, should remember that that we
are all the descendants of immigrant communities.
Today’s immigrants are simply
America’s newest newcomers.

I’ve been keeping that in mind as I
consider federal immigration efforts that
will ultimately identify and account for
the estimated 11 million people that are
undocumented immigrants living in the
U.S. today.

The ultimate goal of immigration reform,
in my view, is to provide these people with
an opportunity to join the mainstream by
legalizing their immigration status, and
then allow them to apply for legal permanent
residency and eventually a chance
for U.S. citizenship. Because most undocumented
immigrants in the U.S. today
came for no other reason but to work and
contribute to American society, including
its economy, they deserve the opportunity
to come “out of the shadows” and receive
the full protections and benefits offered
under the law.

Allowing undocumented immigrants to
earn their legal status benefits our economy
by providing businesses with a stable
and dedicated workforce. In order to grow
and prosper, businesses need a reliable
pool of workers. Unless you’re an unscrupulous
employer, and most are not, the last
thing you need is for your employees to
live in fear of apprehension and potential
deportation.

Legalizing the undocumented population
lets us know who is living within our nation’s
borders. That’s important, of course,
if we expect to keep the bad people out
and the people of America safe.

Plus, our government institutions need
to know who’s living here and whether they
are all paying their fair share of taxes—
though you might be surprised to know
that a significant number of undocumented
immigrants voluntarily pay state and federal
income taxes every year, knowing full well
they will never receive social security or
other worker benefits.

Legalizing the undocumented work
force would help us maintain a healthy and
vibrant economy in other ways. Workeremployer
relationships, at their best, are
built on bonds of trust. Workers need to
know that they’ll be treated fairly and that
they’ll be able to share in the fruits of their
labor. Furthermore, a legal workforce helps
to ensure they’ll receive equal protection
under our labor laws.

The rules created by federal immigration
reform must be similarly fair, equitable and
understandable for businesses and employees
alike.

Some have recommended that undocumented
workers in the U.S. be required
to pay an application fee to legalize their
status, adding that if they owe back taxes
that those must be paid, as should any necessary
and practicable fines. If such fees,
fines and taxes are imposed they must be
reasonable and not unnecessarily punitive.
Likewise, if workers and employers are
expected to verify someone’s eligibility to
work in the U.S., the system used to do that
has to be reliable.

The fairness question is important
because our entire U.S. economic system
is built on the idea that we’re all offered an
even playing field and anyone who works
hard enough can earn a chance to rise to
the top. That concept must be honored by
federal immigration reform.

Consider that 40% of Fortune 500 companies
in the U.S. today were founded by
immigrants or the children of immigrants.
Who’s to say that the next founder of a future
Fortune 500 company isn’t among the
11 million undocumented immigrants living
in the U.S. today?

Further, I believe that legalizing the
immigration status of the undocumented
honors another core American value: keeping
families together.

The truth is that immigrant families very
often include legal immigrants, undocumented
immigrants, and children, spouses
or other relatives who were born in the U.S.

The precise definition of what constitutes
the modern American family may be evolving,
but the vast majority of us agrees and
understands that families are the foundation
of every major institution in the U.S.

Let’s continue to build and support the
American family and the U.S. economy by
keeping immigrant families together and
allowing them to invest in the future of
America.

Daniel R. Ortega is an attorney in
Phoenix and the Immediate Past Chairman
of the National Council of La Raza,
the nation’s largest and most infl uential
Latino advocacy group in the nation.

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