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US House needs to tackle immigration reform this fall: Henry Barbour

By Contributing Op-Ed columnist (Henry Barbour) on September 13, 2013 at 6:54 AM

When it comes to fixing our broken immigration system, the United States is at a crossroads and the U.S. House of Representatives is driving the car. There can be no question as to whether our immigration system is working and if our border is secure. Both are a disaster, and the only question is what Washington is going to do about it.

This fall members of the U.S. House have a historic opportunity to fix our broken system, including our border. The Louisiana delegation in the House can have a significant impact on pushing through common sense reform. In fact, conservatives in the House have tremendous leverage and consequently great responsibility to pass the strongest border security and enforcement measures in American history.

We need to secure the border, end de facto amnesty and establish a modernized immigration system that will give the country the workers we need to continue to lead the world economically.

The federal government, first and foremost, must protect and defend our homeland. When people can come and go through our border like they are strolling through the French Quarter, our country has failed us. It does not take a national security expert to know the risks we face in today’s world when our border is not secure. This must be Congress’ top priority.

There are approximately 11 million undocumented people living illegally in the United States. They are in the shadows, and we know little about their backgrounds or activities. Yet they enjoy de facto amnesty under the current system. Many of these people are hard-working folks, and I would welcome them to get in the legal immigration line and go through a rigorous process Congress establishes to be able to stay here legally. Some are bad actors, and the federal government should have deported them already.

In addition, there are foreign students at our universities all over the country, including about 7,000 in Louisiana. It’s been said that as they graduate with their science, technology, engineering and math degrees, we should staple a green card on their diplomas so they can stay in the United States and create jobs in Baton Rouge and New Orleans rather than back in their home countries. I support that and increasing the number of H-1B visas to attract the world’s best and brightest to live permanently in the United States.

Following last year’s disappointing election for Republicans, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus asked me to help lead an effort to examine how the Republican Party could get back on the right track to growing our party and winning more elections. We compiled a blistering report with many recommendations, including urging Republicans in Congress to support comprehensive immigration reform. We did not attempt to tell Congress what specific piece of legislation to support or whether it had to be done in one bill or five, but we stated with clarity that the party’s appeal will continue to shrink if we fail to act. While those political implications are important to us Republicans, the reason to support immigration reform is because it’s good policy.

The Senate and President Obama are eager for a bill to come out of the House. This is our chance as a party to fix the broken system and border, while also promoting job growth and opportunity for all to pursue the American dream.

Henry Barbour is a Republican strategist and co-authored the RNC Growth and Opportunity Project report earlier this year. He lives in Mississippi.