Monday, August 29 , 2016, 9:42 pm | Fair 66º

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Tom Donohue: America Needs Immigrants

When it comes to immigration, people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. And the facts are crystal clear: Our current system is broken. It’s not serving the interests of our economy, our businesses or our society.

Our nation can’t compete and win without the world’s best talent and hardest workers. We can’t sustain vital programs for the elderly and the less fortunate without more employees — both low skilled and high skilled — to grow our economy and tax base. We can’t harvest our food, care for our sick or sustain our military without immigrants and temporary workers.

America deserves a lawful, rational and practicable immigration system that provides the labor we need at all skill levels, while protecting the rights of citizens, businesses, the undocumented and those legally pursuing citizenship.

We must secure our borders and enable people and commerce to flow efficiently and lawfully in and out of our country. We’ve made significant progress by smartly deploying our technology, personnel and programs along the border. Let’s build on that.

We need thoughtfully designed employment-based visa programs that would allow employers to use immigrant labor when U.S. employees are not available. Even with high unemployment, we have millions of job openings that go unfilled. Either people will come here to fill those jobs, or the companies will take all their jobs somewhere else.

Our visa system should be tied to market demands and include provisions for high-skilled, seasonal, agriculture and other areas where employers face demonstrated labor shortages. We also need to expand the number of green cards for foreign nationals who graduate from our colleges and universities with advanced degrees.

We need a workable, reliable national employee verification system. We are ready to move forward with the national E-Verify system as long as there is strong preemption language for state and local laws, no obligation to re-verify the entire current work force for private employers, and a safe harbor for employers acting in good faith.

Finally, we need to provide a path out of the shadows for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live in the United States today. As we have this debate, let’s not forget who we are, or what this nation was built upon — the dreams and hard work of those who came here seeking a better life.

Immigration reform will be a top priority for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce this year. It’s a great opportunity to strengthen our competitiveness, attract and retain the world’s best talent and hardest workers, secure our borders, and keep faith with America’s legacy as an open and welcoming society.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own.

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