THE partial government shutdown behind them, members of Congress can turn their focus to issues that demand attention. One of them is immigration reform. The Senate passed a bill this summer, and House Speaker John Boehner says he believes he can get the House to vote on a measure by year's end. Republicans shouldn't waste this opportunity.
Some in the GOP — perhaps many — will view any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants as “amnesty” and will tar supporters as un-American — or worse. This is sure to come from far-right members of the House, those who tried to make life miserable for Republicans who didn't agree with them that the shutdown was a good idea.
But a sound immigration reform package — one that allows for more highly skilled labor to come to and stay in America, that provides a way for seasonal, temporary employment in agriculture, that includes a rigorous route to citizenship for those now in the country — would benefit not just the United States but Oklahoma, too.
Vance Winningham, a veteran immigration attorney in Oklahoma City, wrote on these pages last week that the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the Senate's immigration bill would cut the federal deficit by about $1 trillion over 20 years. Winningham also cited a report by the Perryman Group that said Oklahoma would lose $580.3 million in economic activity if every unauthorized immigrant was removed from the state. A bill that provides a pathway to citizenship and expands the number of high-skilled and temporary worker programs would increase the state's economic output by $290 million in 2014, he wrote.
Former Oklahoma House Speaker Kris Steele, a conservative by any measure, has urged Congress to pass a law that “protects our borders, recognizes the human dignity of these foreigners in our land and allows immigrants to add to our economy.” The current system, Steele says, “operates on fear — fear of someone different, fear of the unknown and fear that opportunity to better one's life will be taken away.”