PORTLAND – Not long ago, I had the opportunity to meet with several Portland business owners who have moved here from other countries.
It reinforced my conviction that immigrants are still an important source of energy, entrepreneurship and economic growth for our nation, and that our immigration laws need to be changed to make sure we do not miss out on what they have to offer.
It also made me more supportive than ever of the immigration reform bill currently before the U.S. Senate.
I believe it would be a huge improvement over our current immigration policies, and I hope both Sen. Collins and Sen. King work hard for its passage.
Like most Americans, I can easily trace my own immigrant roots.
Over a century ago, my then-14-year-old grandmother left her native Ireland in search of the opportunity so many others have sought in America, both before and after her. She found a good life here and, although she was forced to end her own education after the sixth grade, she made sure that all of her children earned college degrees.
Education was important to her, the key to success for her family. That is still true for U.S. immigrants today, with many people from other countries coming here to study at our world-renowned colleges and universities.
But tragically for U.S. businesses, many of these extremely bright, highly motivated people are turned away after their studies are complete.
Our immigration system is so out of touch that it does not recognize the benefits of giving high achieving graduates the chance to put their expertise to work here in America. We prepare them to do great things — then we tell them to go somewhere else to do them.
This is just one of the many flaws in our present immigration system.
For example, current immigration policies do not even adequately secure our borders, the very first step in any kind of successful immigration program.
In addition, by failing to establish a plan for dealing with the 11 million undocumented people currently living in the United States, our present immigration policies essentially grant de facto amnesty to illegal immigrants.
Living outside the system, these people cannot fully contribute to our nation’s economic growth, and we cannot determine who is here just to work and who might plan to commit crimes or even acts of terrorism.
It is an unacceptable situation.
I am very encouraged by the bipartisan support being shown in the U.S. Senate for the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013.
The Gang of Eight itself is composed of four Democrats and four Republicans, and the Senate Judiciary Committee’s recent 13-5 vote in favor of the plan also featured support from both parties.
This is exceedingly rare in today’s needlessly partisan political arena, and to me demonstrates just how badly our nation needs immigration reform. Even politicians with very different agendas and goals can still agree that our system is undeniably broken and must be fixed.
The Gang of Eight plan would fix things. Although not perfect, it would be much better than the status quo in many ways. I support it and urge the members of Maine’s congressional delegation to vote in its favor.
Michael Brennan is mayor of Portland.