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Conservatives Need to Fix the Broken U.S. Immigration System | Commentary

The U.S. immigration system is flawed and broken. Conservatives should be at the forefront of reform so the law reflects the just interests of the United States, not misty-eyed ideals of some of the liberal do-gooder reformers. What is good for America should be the sole criteria for immigration reform.

Our laws today are unenforced and citizens and companies who play by the rules are undermined by bad actors who do not. This undermines our rule of law and slows our economic growth. In today’s global economy, we cannot afford the status quo.

Congress must pass legislation that will fix our broken system. We have the strongest economy in the world, the most innovative businesses and a history replete with examples of how legal immigration has made us stronger. Conservatives need to seize on immigration reform as an opportunity for growth, to reaffirm who we are and what makes our country great.

Our economy has long outgrown the visa programs we have now. In high-skilled industries such as engineering and medicine, we do not have the talent we need to fill the jobs. These industries are the fastest growing in the country and we depend on them for job creation and economic growth. But according to the Partnership for a New American Economy, we face a shortage of more than 235,000 jobs in science, technology, engineering and math fields by 2018.

On the other end of the spectrum, we face debilitating workforce challenges as well. Visa limits for seasonal workers, such as those needed by farmers, cannot keep up with demand. And those visas that are available are too cumbersome, complex and cost prohibitive for many employers to use. That means fewer fruits and vegetables per season, lost revenue and an increased reliance on imports, many of which are not subject to the same level of health regulations as our homegrown crops. By instituting worker visa programs that adequately address our farm labor demands, we can keep American agriculture strong.

With a rational visa policy, we also improve security by allowing border security agents to devote their attention where it is most needed — keeping out law-breakers, drug dealers, criminals and terrorists.

Border security must be an essential element of any immigration reform. In addition to using physical barriers, surveillance and enforcement, we have to stop the biggest problem — the rich incentives for illegal immigration. They are a magnet for people to come here illegally. That means fixing the broken system we have that relies on quotas and diversity, instead of a system based on what America needs.

Doing nothing now means hurting businesses just as we are coming out of the Great Recession. Today, 40 percent of our Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant or child of an immigrant. Much of the new small-business growth in the country is because of legal immigrants.

Because we have no visa for entrepreneurs, the most innovative people around the world are starting companies and creating jobs elsewhere. Meanwhile, other countries understand that entrepreneurs are an economic necessity. While we actively turn away future CEOs, the rest of the world is offering incentives to attract new businesses.

Though our higher education system is the best in the world, our colleges and universities are serving competing nations with the talented foreign-born graduates who study here and then get sent back home to drive their economies instead of ours. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, only 7 percent of green cards are granted based on economic grounds. In other countries, it’s as high as 50 percent — and they will win in the long term if we do not adapt our policies to the global marketplace.

Finally, we need to make the 11 million people who are here illegally obey the law, pay taxes and come out of the shadows. We have to get them right by the law in exchange for legal status, but not unbridled amnesty. This should include penalties, background checks to root out criminals, and the requirement that they learn English, understand the Constitution and be committed to our basic freedoms. We must ensure there is no special pathway to citizenship that puts them in front of people who waited in line.

It is time to make the changes that our citizens and our economy demand. Our current policies date back to the 1960s, when TVs were black and white and computers were bigger than cars. Our nation competes in a global economy, and our immigration policies should reflect our needs for the 21st century. Conservative-led immigration reform is an important step to a brighter American future.

Sal Russo is the co-founder of the Tea Party Express.