DENVER — With Washington, DC slipping back into meltdown mode on the brink of a possible government shutdown and much of Colorado trying to recover from catastrophic flooding, a group of business leaders urged Congress Monday not to forget about a legislative priority that dominated the first half of the year: comprehensive immigration reform.
A massive immigration overhaul, crafted by a group of eight senators including Colorado Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, passed the Senate by a stunning 68-32 bipartisan vote back in June.
Now though, after a sleepy summer recess and a fall focused on merely averting another self-inflicted economic disaster, Congress appears to have completely forgotten about fixing the country’s immigration system, something many Republicans acknowledged was critical for their party’s political revival after last November’s election losses.
On Monday, a group of business leaders from across the Denver metro area attempted to give them a reminder.
“We are relying on our members of Congress to deliver an immigration system better suited to meet our 21st Century needs,” said real estate magnate Pat Hamill, the Chairman of Colorado Concern, an alliance of more than 100 executives.
“Virtually every industry in Colorado will benefit from comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship to guarantee the stable workforce we need to build our businesses and Colorado’s economy.”
House Republicans have said they won’t consider the Senate bill and will instead put forth their own package of bills focused on enhancing border security (the Senate bill includes $46 billion to enhance border security within four years; the proposed path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants under the proposal would take 13 years).
In a letter sent to Republican House Speaker John Boehner, 18 business and agricultural associations from Colorado described the issues they’ll continue to face as long as Congress fails to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package.
“Our high-tech businesses along the Front Range struggle to recruit and retain a quality workforce; our fruit growers on the Western Slope and our vegetable farmers in northern Colorado spend more time filling out paperwork than harvesting their crops; our tourism, hospitality and ski industries – the lifeblood of our distinctive mountain towns – are handcuffed by a system that makes it difficult to find the workers they need; and tens of thousands of people live in the shadows, in constant fear of deportation and having their families split apart,” the letter states.
Among those signing the letter: Donna Lynne, Chair of the Board, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce; Dave Davia, Executive Vice President and CEO of the Colorado Association of Mechanical and Plumbing Contractors, representing the Colorado Competitive Council; John Brackney, President and CEO of the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce; and agricultural producer Dave Petrucco.
“The fact that 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children should tell us that so many are hardworking innovators who are eager to help build our economy,” Brackney said. “We’ll gain a competitive edge and more jobs by passing immigration reform.”
Of Colorado’s four Republican congressmen, only Rep. Mike Coffman, one of the most vulnerable incumbents in Washington heading into the 2014 mid-term elections, has signaled any support for a path to citizenship for some undocumented immigrants although he does not support the plan passed by the Senate.