Starting in the late 1800s, large numbers of immigrants from all over the world were lured to the Chicago area for the tremendous opportunity for low- and high-skilled work in railroads, canals and heavy industry. Without immigrants, the place we call home would not be as economically developed, culturally rich and deeply diverse as it is today.
The Chicago area is a testament to how legal immigration helps enrich and strengthen the economy. But because of our country’s broken immigration system, we cannot take advantage of the enormous opportunity that legal immigration delivers. In Washington, I am working to fix the system. Here’s where I stand:
The first action we must take is to secure our border. One aspect of this deals with the hundreds of thousands of people who attempt to cross the U.S.-Mexico border every year, and in increasingly dangerous areas. Our open border incentivizes criminals to traffic humans, weapons and drugs into America. This seriously lucrative profession causes bloody turf wars in border towns like Ciudad Juarez between drug cartels to take control of the best smuggling routes into America. Not only do these fights involve brutal violence on the Mexican side of the border, the open routes give criminals easy access into the U.S., where many more innocent people and agents have been claimed victim.
Another urgent security fix deals with foreign travelers who overstay their visas, who make up 40 percent of those here illegally. They arrive here legally and simply never leave. People overstaying their visas are nearly impossible to track, posing a significant national security risk in a post 9/11 world.
Once we pass measures to secure the border, the House can work on individual bills, voting on each separately. For example, we can produce legislation that will attract workers through high-skilled visas, grant seasonal permits to agricultural workers through a guest worker program, and set up a process by which undocumented immigrants can get right with the law. By working through small bills that fix targeted problems, we will ultimately solve the bigger problem in a way that is transparent and easy to understand. This is in direct contrast to what the Senate has passed – one massive, complicated bill that few lawmakers have actually read and understood.
And while it is unlikely that the Senate bill will come to the House floor, we have already found common ground and taken measures to fix our broken system. We have encouraged opportunity in America for foreign workers while creating jobs and growing our economy at home. The House passed a bill that I cosponsored last year that would create a new green card category for immigrants who have received science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) doctorates and master’s degrees from our world-renowned universities. It allows the best and the brightest to stay in America after graduating to advance U.S. innovation, create jobs, and help keep us globally competitive. Also, this year, I introduced a bipartisan bill to create a number of high-skilled work visas for Koreans that will benefit our economy and strengthen our trading partnership, all while protecting jobs that can be filled by U.S. workers.
You can ask almost anyone from the Chicago area about their family history, and you will frequently hear them start with immigrant stories based on the hope for a better life. Like the Chicago area, America’s economy can benefit from an effective, legal immigration system. Once we discourage future waves of illegal immigration, we can put responsible reforms in place to continue to welcome those who come to the United States to build a better life, strengthening our nation and our economy in the process.
U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton, represents Illinois' 6th District, which includes portions of Bartlett, Carol Stream, Darien, Downers Grove, Glen Ellyn, Hinsdale, Lisle, Lombard, Naperville, Oak Brook, West Chicago, Westmont, Wheaton, Willowbrook and Winfield.