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Trey Grayson: We Must Not Let Partisan Bickering Be Downfall of Immigration Reform

This column is written by Trey Grayson, Northern Kentucky native, former Kentucky Secretary of State and current director of the Institute for Politics at Harvard University. The column originally appeared at KY Forward.

Despite living in a 50-50 nation, the majority of Americans agree on one major issue – the need for meaningful immigration reform. We have an outdated, rigid system in dire need of reform. It is refreshing to see this issue once again in the spotlight with congressional leaders from both parties. We have an opportunity now to reform the system in a way that works for both the U.S. economy and the immigrants wishing to come to the U.S. to live out the American dream.

I have spent the last several years as part of the academic community and have had an up-close view of the incredible shortcomings of our current immigration system. America educates and trains thousands of foreign-born students who, in turn, are subject to a rigid and complicated visa system, often having to wait years to gain access to this country.

We have invested a great deal of time, energy and money on these students, yet we have no choice but to send them back to their home countries due to our outdated immigration system. This isn’t a problem with Harvard graduates; the same is true for the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and other universities.

There are literally thousands of high-skilled jobs in the United States that need to be filled so our economy can start moving again. Unfortunately, our universities have a deficit of science, technology, engineering and math graduates who are able to take on these roles.

We need these foreign-born students to come and fill the gaps. If we don’t allow them to live and work here for U.S. companies, there is no doubt they will move to another country and work for a competing company.

Among these foreign-born students graduating from American colleges, a large number are innovators and entrepreneurs. According to a study done by the Partnership for a New American Economy, immigrants are twice as likely to start new businesses, and economists agree that startups create the vast majority of American jobs. However, these jobs disappear if the graduate cannot get a visa to stay and keep the business running in the U.S. If we do not reform our immigration system, we will continue to lose out on thousands of new jobs every year.

These are just a few examples in which our current immigration system is failing our economy. The good news is that both sides of the aisle recognize the need for reform. The bipartisan Gang of Eight, which includes U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., recently proposed sensible solutions to modernize the system. Each day, more and more members of Congress are coming forward with encouraging words of support for meaningful immigration reform.

But we have seen a very similar opportunity take a turn for the worse in past years. We cannot let partisan bickering be the downfall of this reform that is so desperately needed. I believe we can and have found common ground on this important issue.

If you agree, join me to encourage our members of Congress to step up and improve our nation’s immigration laws.

Written by Trey Grayson

Photo: Trey Grayson and Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News/RCN file