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Jeff Allen: Immigration reform proposal will work

Apr. 26, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

The time is now for common sense, bipartisan immigration reform. The agreement announced recently by the Gang of 8 Senators -- Republicans and Democrats -- would go a long way toward fixing our broken immigration system, while protecting American employers and American workers.

As leaders representing West Virginia businesses, workers and churches, we understand the importance of compromise and the give and take that it requires. We are proud of our congressional delegation, which time and again has served as a model for the nation when it comes to seeking bipartisan solutions. We invite all of our senators and representatives to stand together in this great compromise for immigration reform.

Here is what this legislation does:

First, it ramps up our border security to historically high levels. Second, it reforms the legal immigration system so that immigrant spouses and children no longer have to be separated for as many as 20 or 30 years, or more. Third, it expands E-verify to help businesses ensure that their workers have legal status. Fourth, it creates a new visa worker program -- agreed upon by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National AFL-CIO -- that would allow workers to enter the country as needed, but not at wages that would undercut American workers. And finally, it forces immigrants who are here without papers to get right with the law, pay a fine, learn English, pay taxes, and wait in line for 10 years -- before they can earn a path to legalization and eventually citizenship.

Immigration reform is good for West Virginia workers who will no longer risk being undercut by undocumented immigrant workers. It is good for West Virginia employers who will no longer bear the burden of trying to discern whether a worker is legal or not. It is good for our law enforcement, who can now leave federal law enforcement to the federal government, while focusing limited resources on violent criminals. Immigration reform is good for West Virginia's tens of thousands of immigrant families, who will now have a more sensible path toward uniting with their loved ones. And it is good for West Virginia's community of faith, as we live out the moral imperative to "welcome the stranger."

No piece of legislation is perfect. This reform may not be exactly what any one of our constituencies would most want. But today we stand shoulder to shoulder -- West Virginia's businesses, unions, and churches -- because we know that democracy requires compromise. We hope that our legislators, Republicans and Democrats, will stand united with us.

The Rev. Jeff Allen is executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches. Steve Roberts is president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Kenny Perdue is president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO.

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