“I say to the workers in the United States today ... You are competing with an undocumented worker who goes to work and is paid less than a minimum wage ... They are able to undercut other workers in America just by virtue of the fact that they’re working under the counter,” said Durbin. “They’re all going to come up above the counter now, everybody will be held to the same legal standards.”
Durbin and Foster sat on a panel at the Mid-America Club hosted by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Friday morning to discuss the importance of immigration reform for the U.S. economy and workforce. Representatives from the chamber urged the nearly 75 attendees to join the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition (IBIC), a group of various state businesses, political leaders and other immigration rights advocates, that promotes “the integration of immigrants into our economy as consumers, workers, entrepreneurs and citizens.”
“It’s no secret for the last 20 years Congress has left our immigration system to rot,” said Foster. “Our system depends way too much on detention and deportation at a huge cost to governments, businesses and families ... It’s bad economic policy.”
Drafted by the “Gang of Eight”, a bipartisan group of senators that includes Durbin, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, was introduced in April. The bill, S 744, creates a pathway to citizenship for the nation's 11 million undocumented immigrants by way of a 10-year wait before applying for for a Green card. The legislation mandates applicants pay $2,000 in fines, have a job and pass a background check. After applying for a green card, there would be an additional three-year wait to apply to be a U.S. citizen.
Eligible younger undocumented immigrants and agricultural workers would only have to wait five years to apply for a green card.
The proposal is contingent upon the federal government passing several border security thresholds throughout a 10-year time period, a provision Durbin referred to as “the price of coming to the table.”
“The Republicans said ‘we won’t sit down at the table, we won’t even consider this conversation, unless you pour more resources into the border between Mexico and the United States and do everything humanly possible to stop illegal immigration',” Durbin said.
The legislation appropriates $4.5 billion to tightening border security. It also requires businesses to electronically verify employees’ immigration status. The bill would also also update America’s Visa system to better track immigrants who stay longer than their allotted time and creates a new classification system, the “W-Visa”, for low-skilled workers.
“When we have entrepreneurs that want to come to the U.S. and bring their businesses here, we should not be turning them away,” said Foster. “And when we have well-trained workers, many of which are trained at universities here in the U.S., subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer, we should not then force them out to take their talents to other countries.”
Here's more from Durbin and Foster:
Mark Segal, CEO of the Habitat Company and chair of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Public Policy Committee, was also on the panel and called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 “pro-business.”
“(The legislation) grows the pie here in the United States,” he said. “It builds more opportunity, it doesn’t take away from people, it adds them here to this country.”
Segal said immigration reform could bring about a 1 percent increase in gross domestic product (GDP) to the economy over a 10 year-period, something he said could be “fairly dramatic” for the U.S.
He also said 25 percent of U.S. patents are held by immigrants, adding “this is energy that can come to our country.”
Segal is a member of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition (IBIC) steering committee.
He also cited a 2011 survey by the National Association of Manufacturers which found that 600,000 open manufacturing positions were not filled in America that year.
“We have a mismatch of skills in this country that immigration can help us foster,” Segal said. “We need to be able to create a balanced emoloyment base We need to be able to create job opportunities, the immigrant population tends to have a greater propencity toward entrepreneurship and new business formation. All of these factors help us drive America forward.”
After the Senate Judiciary Committee considered more than 300 amendments, the bill was passed by a 13-5 vote Tuesday. The bill now advances before the full Senate.
If the bill passes in the Senate, it will move to the House where it faces an uncertain future.
“Members of Congress have the attention span of toddlers and infants,” said Durbin. “But we have to get this moving ... Time is not on our side.”
An immigration reform package is being hashed out in the U.S. House, but a bill has yet to be unveiled. According to U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D, IL-4), a member of the House’s bipartisan group of legislators charged with drafting the bill, the legislators “are making progress.”
“We've won battles, we've lost battles. I can tell you today that we are making progress,” Gutierrez said in a statement Thursday. “We'll get there. And if political infighting between the parties derails immigration reform, we all lose.”
Durbin called on the event's attendees to reach out to their congressional delegates and encourage them to support comprehensive immigration reform.
“We need your help reaching out to business Republican congressmen who need to hear support from conservative members of their district,” he said.
Durbin added that fellow Gang of Eight member U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), a Tea Party Republican and unlikely ally in the push for immigration reform, is promoting the bill via one-on-one talks with senators.
“We need certainty in our system. We need certainty for families who have one or more members with an illegal status. We need certainty for employers who want to play by the rules, but don’t have a playbook to go by. And we simply cannot continue to ignore this crisis any longer,” said Foster. “It is past time for Congress to take action.”