One year ago a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators announced a compromise immigration reform proposal. The legislation would have granted temporary legal status to most of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States while allowing them to apply for visas and eventual citizenship. The proposal also included a guest-worker program and new border controls.
The bipartisan proposal came under immediate fire from many corners of the political spectrum, but the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce supported it because it addressed so many of the immigration issues in our nation through a bipartisan effort written by senators from both political parties. Senators like Dianne Feinstein, Edward Kennedy, John McCain, and Mel Martinez along with President George Bush. Like past immigration discussions, the debate was passionate and unfortunately, no compromise was reached. We believe that conversation must begin again in Washington, D.C.
California’s economy is largely dependent on immigrant labor and has been for more than a century. Today, 26 percent of California’s 37 million residents are immigrants. In L.A. County the number is 36 percent and in the city of Los Angeles, the percentage jumps to 41 percent. Indeed, 29 percent of all the immigrants living in the United States are in California.
We believe most Americans respect immigrants who come here to seek a better life for themselves and their families, and in so doing, help our national and regional economies as well. The status quo is not an acceptable alternative for California or the United States, and our California Congressional delegation must take the lead.
In the meantime, we encourage Immigration and Customs Enforcement to concentrate their efforts on companies that have a clear history of worker exploitation in violation of wage and hour, health and safety laws. Mass enforcement actions against employers who are complying with their I-9 obligations and are not known to be in violation of wage and hour, health and safety laws can be devastating to these businesses and our overall economy.
The status quo is not acceptable. As a business community, we call on our California Congressional delegation to take the lead in pursuing national immigration reform.
The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce represents the interests of business in L.A. County. Founded in 1888, the Chamber promotes a prosperous economy and quality of life in the Los Angeles region. For more information, visit www.lachamber.com.