Businesses succeed by recognizing the right decision and knowing when to make it. Utah business leaders know the time for comprehensive immigration reform is now.
Earlier this week, the Salt Lake Chamber convened dozens of business leaders from across a broad spectrum of industries to discuss the progress of immigration legislation in Congress. Our goal is to pass comprehensive reform. To be absolutely clear: we urge Utah's congressional delegation to lead efforts and to play a constructive role in finding a way forward.
It is important all six members of our federal delegation understand that Utah's business community strongly supports the passage of the best immigration reform bill possible as soon as possible — in 2013.
As a former president of the Utah Senate, I know all too well how the very nature of the legislative process often prevents perfection in lawmaking. However, we can no longer afford to let the perfect be the enemy of the good; we must move forward with what is practical and in the best interest of the nation.
We may not realize it in Utah, where our unemployment rate continues to drop and our economy is growing, but on a national level the economy is struggling along at an anemic 1.6 percent growth rate with an unacceptably high unemployment rate of 7.5 percent. Ironically, these staggering numbers come at a time when thousands of jobs go unfilled simply because of a lack of workers with the proper education levels and skill sets to fill them.
The comprehensive immigration reform bill making its way through the U.S. Senate addresses workforce needs. It allows for more high-skilled workers — many of whom we educate right here in our universities — to put their skills to use designing new products, starting new businesses and even generating new industries that strengthen our national economy.
The bill also addresses a labor shortage in hourly labor positions to support important industries like agriculture, hospitality and tourism. By making it possible for foreign workers to fill in gaps in our workforce, we strengthen our economy and create better jobs for American workers.
Provisions in the legislation address important border security concerns and provide for a national system of electronic verification of work eligibility. And the legislation recognizes the reality of millions of undocumented people currently living in our country and provides a fair resolution to their status.
Last week, the Gang of Eight's immigration bill passed an important hurdle, gaining the support of 13 senators on the judicial committee, including our senior senator, Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah. Count me among the most appreciative in a business community that applauds Sen. Hatch for his leadership and support. Sen. Hatch has a long history as a champion for conservative common sense reform efforts. Already, his amendments to the legislation have improved this legislation. We encourage him to continue to use his substantial influence and political experience to improve and advance the bill. His leadership has never been more important.
The business community strongly encourages Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Reps. Rob Bishop, Jason Chaffetz, Jim Matheson and Chris Stewart to recognize this rare opportunity to resolve a critical issue and boost the sluggish national economy. Now is Utah's time to lead.
We are coming to a tipping point in our economic recovery. While the stock market has reached all-time highs in the past few weeks, there is growing concern about our long-term economic prospects. Many are unsure we will see continued economic growth in the second half of the year. I am a natural optimist. I believe we will find a way to resolve this issue in a way that makes us stronger economically.
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Nearly three years ago, business, community and religious leaders crafted and signed The Utah Compact, a document outlining five principles to guide our immigration discussion. The first principle states that immigration is a federal issue between the United States and other nations, not Utah and other nations. Last summer, the Supreme Court agreed. Now the issue sits squarely in Congress' court. It is time for our elected leaders to act.
The time for comprehensive immigration reform is now.
Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber