A game plan for immigration reform

America has welcomed immigrants throughout our history. The unique talents and initiative of newcomers have contributed to our prosperity and national character. Despite how important immigration is to America, however, we have yet to develop an effective set of immigration laws. Our current system has resulted in lost opportunities for economic growth, millions of undocumented residents, and vulnerable borders.

The U.S. House of Representatives will soon have the opportunity to make momentous changes to the current immigration laws. As a candidate for mayor of Minneapolis, I am weighing in on this federal-level issue because it impacts Minneapolis directly. As the House charts the course for immigration reform, I call on it to address three key priorities.

First, the House must enact reforms that would make cities like Minneapolis a magnet for global talent. For example, more than half of the University of Minnesota’s engineering Ph.D. candidates are foreign-born. By extending and expanding H-1B visas for highly-skilled and educated immigrants, immigration reform would enable would-be entrepreneurs attending the University of Minnesota and other institutions to stay in Minneapolis and contribute to the economy here. The alternative? We’ll keep sending those talented individuals back to their home countries to create jobs there.

Second, the House must enact reforms that would provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in America. We are indeed a nation of laws, and some well-intentioned people argue that the government should deport those who have broken our immigration laws. While the logical simplicity of this approach may be appealing at first, the mass deportation of 11 million illegal immigrants would be logistically impossible and — more importantly — using government forces to tear families apart in the dark of night would simply be un-American. Legitimizing this population’s citizenship (by requiring would-be citizens to pay a fine, go to the back of the line, and learn English) would generate billions in new tax revenue, would be consistent with the moral principle that we are all God’s children, and would recognize the reality that these neighbors are here to stay.

Finally, the House must enact reforms that would ensure the security of our national borders. Although the southern border with Mexico receives most of the national attention, Minnesota’s 547-mile border with Canada presents an appealing route for people looking to enter the U.S. to engage in smuggling, human trafficking or worse. Tough, effective border security measures, including providing law enforcement the tools they need to do their jobs, will help protect our country on various fronts.

The U.S. House of Representatives has the opportunity to enact wide-ranging reform to the national immigration structure. I encourage Congressmen John Kline and Erik Paulsen to support passage of a comprehensive bill that would maximize the potential of the American workforce, provide attainable pathways to citizenship for our hard-working neighbors currently living in the shadows, and protect our national security. Our country and city deserve no less. 

Cam Winton is a resident of the Fulton neighborhood of Minneapolis and a candidate for mayor in the November 2013 election.