LEWISTON – Immigration has been a hot-button issue in Maine and around the country recently, and with good reason. From birthright citizenship to in-state tuition to employee verification, the debate has passionate proponents on both sides.

What gets lost in these impassioned arguments is that there are other areas of immigration reform — areas that have potentially larger importance to our day-to-day lives — that go largely ignored even though they enjoy broad consensus.

So let’s focus on where we agree. First, there is broad agreement that our federal government needs to take control over whom we let in and whom we do not, both to respect law and order and to protect American jobs.

We also agree that America is a country of immigrants and that American immigrants have played a vital role in our competitive advantage in the world.

An immigrant from Scotland, Andrew Carnegie, gave us Carnegie Steel Co., one of the largest businesses in the world in the late 1800s. Chinese immigrants gave us much of the labor behind the railroads that were instrumental in pushing the United States into the forefront of the global economy.

A German immigrant, Albert Einstein, discovered general relativity and helped push America to the cutting edge of theoretical research. More recently, a Russian immigrant named Sergei Brin founded Google, a company that is driving American dominance in the Internet age.

Immigrants have played an equally important role in Maine. Dr. Bernard Lown, an immigrant from Lithuania and graduate of Lewiston High School and the University of Maine — who is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate — is also noted for the development of the direct-current defibrillator that has saved thousands upon thousands of lives.

Immigrants continue to play a vital role in Maine’s economy today. At Barber Foods, our foreign-born employees have provided the labor that allowed us to create new product lines, new management and sales jobs, and new tax revenue for the local economy.

In Lewiston, our Somali and other foreign-born residents have opened businesses, bought our products, and paid the millions of dollars in taxes that have helped rekindle our population growth and revitalize our economy.

We also all agree that our government should be doing everything in its power to create jobs and jump-start the economy. A recent report by the Kauffman Foundation, the world’s largest foundation devoted to entrepreneurship, suggests that immigration policies can help us achieve this goal.

Even for those immigrants who are not starting businesses, multiple studies from other notable researchers have found that when immigrants fill roles in our labs, our fields or our factories that Americans are not able to fill, companies grow and create more jobs.

It is the responsibility of those in business and government to make it easier for talented, hard-working immigrants who can help jump-start the economy to come here. In Lewiston, we have worked with our immigrant community to provide access to the capital that they need to begin businesses and to do so in a way that meets the requirements of their culture and religion.

In addition, the federal government needs to play its part. This is why Barber Foods was a proud signatory of the recent Maine Compact, calling on the federal government to act. This is why both Barber Foods and Lewiston recently joined the Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition of mayors and business leaders making the economic case for smart immigration reform at the national level.

Along with asking ourselves how we secure our borders, determine immigration status, and make sure everyone plays by the rules, we should also be asking ourselves how to ensure that the workers we need to grow our businesses and create jobs aren’t away.

With tight budgets and stressed markets, low-cost approaches to job creation and economic growth are as important as ever. We believe that any holistic strategy for economic recovery should include policies that acknowledge immigrants as an untapped source of ideas and energy that could help strengthen the future of our city, our state, and our country.

Though people around the world can dream the American dream, only in America can they make it a reality. As a nation, let’s help those dreams come true and continue to reap their myriad rewards.

– Special to The Press Herald