Utah, and in particular Utah County, is a place where families thrive. They thrive because the people of this valley know the importance of family, and they work tirelessly to keep them together. Nothing is more important to us.
Our shared sense of family is one reason we must support comprehensive immigration reform.
Currently, our broken immigration system forces close family members to wait, often more than 10 years, to be reunited with spouses and/or children. Can you imagine being separated from your family for a decade? Crueler still are the stories of one spouse being ripped away from their family and deported, perhaps never to be united again. That's not the America any of us want. Fortunately, there is opportunity for change.
Recently in the U.S. Senate, our own senator, Orrin Hatch, helped move us closer to a more humane and smarter immigration system when he voted for S744, the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act," in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The bill has a long way to go before it becomes law, and we strongly encourage Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, along with Utah's representatives in the U.S. House, to help make this bill a reality. The bill enjoys broad bipartisan support amongst Utah's likely voters. A new poll just released last week by Harper Polling showed 71 percent of Utahns said they strongly or somewhat support this bipartisan immigration reform legislation.
In addition to helping families stay together, this legislation helps American businesses stay competitive in the global marketplace. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, in five years American businesses will face a shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree workers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Right here on the Silicon Slopes of Utah Valley, we have large technology companies like Adobe, DOMO, IM Flash Technologies, Ancestry .com, Vivint and many others. We depend on these companies as an economic engine for our area and cannot afford to allow this shortfall to occur because of an outdated immigration system that has no place in the 21st century marketplace.
Modernizing our immigration laws will allow these companies, and companies across the country, to hire the 20,000 foreign-born students educated in STEM fields at universities like Brigham Young University, University of Utah and Utah Valley University. Not only are we losing the benefits of providing a state-of-the-art education to these students, but we are also sending them to other countries to compete against us. If America is to remain the world's leading economy, we must fix this.
This bill also makes sound economic sense. According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the bill will reduce the federal deficit by $175 billion in the first 10 years, then another $700 billion in the next 10.
This bill also avoids amnesty for those who entered this country illegally. Instead, it creates a tough, but fair path to citizenship. It requires applicants to pay back taxes and fines, pass a criminal background check, learn English, wait 10 years before being granted a green card and an additional three more years for citizenship. Those who don't meet the requirements will not be allowed to stay. Those that do meet the requirements can come out of the shadows and add to the fabric of American life.
This country was built by immigrants. Immigrants are a key ingredient to what makes America the special place it is. If we don't fix our outdated and broken immigration system, we put that at risk. Our families and our economy are counting on our representatives in Washington, D.C., to put aside the partisan bickering and finally fix this vexing problem.
Val Hale is president and CEO of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce. James T. Evans is mayor of Orem.