Note: This article features the oral testimony of Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Read his full written testimony here.

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today on behalf of the American Immigration Council. For more than 25 years, the American Immigration Council has been dedicated to providing policymakers and the public with research and analysis on the critical issues shaping immigration law and policy

Although the title of today’s hearing suggests some minds have already been made up, my hope is that this hearing should be an opportunity to engage in a thoughtful conversation about the role that immigration can and should play in building a prosperous, growing, 21st century America.

Today, foreign workers fill a critical need—particularly in the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields. Now more than ever, we need an honest conversation about reforms that can improve and strengthen the admission of these immigrants into our labor force. But to do that, we must move the current immigration debate beyond the stereotypes, myths, and hyperbole that distract from that conversation, and which seek to pit native-born workers against their foreign-born colleagues.

The U.S. job market is not a “zero-sum game” in which workers must fight each other for a fixed number of jobs. The United States has the most dynamic and powerful economy the world has ever known, and immigrants of all types and skills, from every corner of the globe, have worked shoulder to shoulder with native-born workers to build it.

The overwhelming weight of research shows that in our dynamic labor market, skilled immigrants complement their U.S.-born counterparts. Skilled immigrants’ help create new jobs and new opportunities for economic expansion. Indeed, foreign workers positively impact the wages and employment opportunities of native-born workers across our economy.

The important role that skilled immigrants play in our economy extends far beyond the world of computers and high tech, and skilled immigrants are helping to reshape communities far beyond Silicon Valley. They are making enormous contributions in almost every aspect of our economy, including manufacturing, medical research, healthcare delivery, and agriculture. Their contributions have helped rebuild economies in places like Des Moines, Iowa; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

For me, the bottom line is this:

In today’s global economy, where other countries are spending billions of dollars to compete with America’s ability to attract immigrants, we cannot take this issue for granted. If we continue to ignore the need for immigration reform or adopt policies that discourage skilled immigrants from helping America to innovate, lead, and create more high-paying jobs we run the enormous risk that America will be left behind, without a robust innovation and entrepreneurial sector.

Innovation is the key to growing the U.S. economy and creating jobs. In turn, the key to innovation is attracting, growing, and retaining a skilled workforce. Foreign-born workers, especially STEM workers, have been and will continue to be a critical part of this equation.

The question this committee must be asking is: what policies will help us fulfill the promise of an immigration system that serves a 21st century, global economy, while protecting the rights and promoting opportunities for all workers?

Research supports the creation of a revamped and revitalized immigration system with updated visa caps and the elimination of per-country quotas; a system that retains talented individuals who were educated in the United States. We need a system that supports STEM education right here at home; a system that encourages compliance with rules and safeguards against exploitation and abuse; and that allows for more flexibility, predictability, and consistency.

The good news is that these reforms are achievable, and that lasting immigration reform is within our reach. The key to success is to not pursue these issues in isolation. Maximizing the economic contributions of skilled immigrants is important work, but it is only one component of the broad based reforms our system desperately needs. We must realize that immigrant job creators, entrepreneurs, and innovators come in all shapes and sizes. They come to our shores not only through employment-based channels but through family reunification and as refugees and asylees. They can also be found within the population of unauthorized workers.

The importance of reforming our system—all aspects of it—to further our prosperity cannot be overstated. We owe it to ourselves and our future to once again support and pass bipartisan, comprehensive immigration reform that is good for business, good for workers, and good for families.

Photo Courtesy of the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

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