Immigration has always been an important part of our history and our success as a country. We're largely a nation of immigrants — throughout our history people from around the world have come here to find better lives for themselves and their families. In Colorado, immigrants have come to our state to farm and ranch, build railroads and start businesses, among many other pursuits. Their contributions have had a lasting and positive impact on our state's economy and cultural heritage.
Today, legal channels of immigration still add value to our economy and our communities; however, our current immigration system is badly in need of reform. It has failed to meet the challenges of a 21st century economy or effectively respond to our dynamic national security needs.
I am greatly concerned about the serious challenges we face as we debate immigration reform and the repercussions for Colorado's workers, employers and families. I support comprehensive immigration reform that upholds the rule of law and is tough on lawbreakers and fair to taxpayers. Any solution to fix our immigration system must ensure that employers hire only those who are legally authorized to work in the United States, make our country safer by preventing drug-traffickers and terrorists from entering the United States, and improve the legal channels to enter our country. Legislation must also responsibly address the status of the estimated 11 million undocumented people who are currently living in the United States. I am confident that there is a sensible, bipartisan solution to our country's immigration issues, particularly if we lower the temperature on heated rhetoric that fuels ethnic and cultural division. Reasonable people can disagree about how best to address immigration reform; however, only by engaging in open and honest discussion will we be able to work toward solving any of our shared problems, including our broken immigration system.
Border Control and National Security
Our borders have been an entryway for millions of well-meaning people seeking jobs and a better life, but our borders have also been exploited by criminals. We must stay one step ahead of drug cartels and smugglers by finding effective ways to protect against illegal activities along our borders.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), an agency of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is charged with ensuring that goods and travelers can move swiftly and safely through our ports of entry while inhibiting the illegal trafficking of persons, drugs, weapons and other illegal goods. It is the responsibility of the U.S. Congress to ensure that DHS has the resources and personnel it needs to carry out its duties and keep our nation safe. As Colorado's senior senator, I take this responsibility very seriously.
We should continue to support efforts to inhibit human and other illicit trafficking across the border. In doing so, we must find fiscally responsible ways to ensure that we are providing adequate resources at our borders and ports of entry to protect against terrorists, illicit trade and illegal activity.
Legal Immigrant Workers
Immigration reform involves balancing two important policy objectives: Enforcing employment law and addressing the need for legal immigrant labor in some industries. I strongly believe that only those who are authorized to work in the United States should be able to do so, which is why I believe that we must build a robust worker verification program that protects American workers, while also making employers part of the solution.
I also believe that any visa program should not adversely affect American workers, which is why I support maintaining and exploring opportunities to strengthen safeguards in visa programs and ensure that Americans have the first opportunity to take these jobs. Legal immigrant workers should complement, not replace, our domestic workforce. When carried out in this manner, legal immigrant employment can play an important role in Colorado’s economy, including the high tech, agriculture, and ski and tourism industries, among others. A number of temporary visa programs enable these employers to draw talented and hardworking people legally and temporarily from other countries to help keep America competitive.
Nevertheless, I also believe that we can do more to train and prepare an American workforce that can meet the domestic demand for professional jobs. Investments in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education and related programs for America's youth and workforce can go a long way in providing the skills necessary to help fill these jobs domestically. I will continue to support efforts to enhance our domestic workforce’s ability to be ready to work.
The DREAM Act
The most vulnerable among us, including children, often bear the heaviest burden while we search for solutions to our immigration challenges. Currently, children who have been brought to this country illegally by no fault of their own have no way to normalize their undocumented status in order to attend college or serve in the military — even if they have grown up in the United States, gone to school and demonstrated good character. The DREAM Act — which I support — would ensure that upstanding young people, who were brought to this country as children, have the opportunity to gain legal status as long as they attend college or join the military and serve our country. I believe that children who know of no other home than the United States and have worked diligently to be successful in their young lives should have an opportunity to normalize their immigration status and to realize their potential as productive citizens.
I continue to have roundtable conversations with Latino leaders and other leaders across the state to help shape the ongoing debate on comprehensive immigration reform. On Feb. 28, 2013, I wrote an op-ed in The Denver Post that highlights some of the ongoing issues I am working on as part of comprehensive immigration reform. For example, I’m intent on ensuring that any agreement in the U.S. Senate will: (1) Help secure our national borders; (2) Ensure that employers hire only people who are legally authorized to work in the United States; (3) Put undocumented immigrants who live in the United States on a tough, but fair, path to earned citizenship; (4) Improve the existing legal channels to enter our country; and (5) Allow young people who have known no other home but the United States to achieve a bright future, by passing the DREAM Act.
I introduced the StartUp Visa Act of 2013 to help keep innovators and entrepreneurs in the United States. This legislation will spur private investment, create good-paying jobs and help ensure America remains the global leader in innovation. The StartUp Visa Act of 2013 is a bipartisan bill that will spur job creation and help immigrant entrepreneurs and highly skilled graduates of U.S. universities start businesses in the United States.
In December 2012, I joined Sen. Michael Bennet, former Sen. Hank Brown and dozens of community leaders representing a range of interests around the state – from dairy farmers to clergy members — at the introduction of the Colorado Compact. The Colorado Compact is a bipartisan effort to convene and promote a reasonable conversation on immigration in Colorado and to foster a more rational and collaborative approach to immigration reform.
The status quo is not an option if we want an immigration system that protects American workers, strengthens America's competitiveness, and ensures the security of our ports, borders and all points in between. Continuing to maintain operational control of our ports of entry and targeting the human trafficking, illicit trade of weapons, drugs and money remains a priority. This is why I supported recent bipartisan legislation, which provides such funding without adding to our debt. The Emergency Border Security Supplemental Appropriations Act (HR.6080/S.3721) will provide targeted funding to hire 1,500 additional Customs and Border Protection agents and supply additional technology and resources to improve interagency response to fight crime at our borders.
While this bill will help ensure we are targeting adequate resources to fight crime at our borders and ports of entry, we still need comprehensive immigration reform that will address the overarching problems of our immigration system. I will continue to work with members of both parties to build support for a comprehensive approach to restore order to our immigration system.
I sponsored the Save Our Small Businesses Act to help employers find temporary workers for low-skill, non-agricultural jobs when they are unable to find these workers at home. In my view, no visa program should adversely affect American workers and every opportunity should be given to make sure these jobs are filled by domestic workers first. Still, I understand that our ski industry, tourism-based and other important businesses rely on this program to fill a niche market of seasonal workers. By keeping Coloradans at work and, when necessary, supplementing our capable workforce, we can work together to strengthen our local economies.