Coloradans are making their voices heard: The time has come for comprehensive immigration reform. From business leaders to labor groups and religious leaders to farmers, a diverse coalition that spans political parties and ideologies is demanding action.
And in the U.S. Senate, members of both political parties agree that we must reform our outdated immigration laws this year. We're working to bridge the partisan divide that far too often has stopped Congress from addressing our country's pressing issues.
Although we're making strong progress, there are members of the U.S. House of Representatives who oppose change or moving forward on comprehensive immigration reform.
But Coloradans expect action on this important issue. They also want our reform efforts to include the DREAM Act, legislation I've spent years trying to pass, which would allow undocumented students to build a future in the only country they've ever known - the United States.
Fair-minded and pragmatic Americans understand that we cannot deport 11 million of our neighbors. Instead, we need to provide them an earned path to citizenship that is responsible, fair and fully integrates them into their communities, so that they are out of the shadows, paying taxes and able to contribute fully to their society in a public way. This will strengthen our economy, make our neighborhoods safer and stronger, hold people accountable, and underline that the United States is a land of opportunity - as it has always been.
Opponents recently have brandished three main arguments in opposition to comprehensive immigration reform.
First, they argue that comprehensive immigration reform should not move forward until a handful of southwestern governors feel the border is secure enough.
I agree that we must continue strengthening our borders. Our borders have been an entryway for millions of well-meaning people seeking jobs and a better life, but our borders have also been exploited by criminals. We must stay one step ahead of drug cartels and smugglers by finding effective ways to protect against illegal activities along our borders.
But seeking a permission slip from southwestern governors, as opponents have demanded, would ultimately leave us exactly where we are today - with millions kept in the shadows with no pathway to legal status. We need a balanced and attainable approach that both secures our borders and finds common-sense solutions to our broken immigration system.
Second, opponents of comprehensive immigration reform argue against this core goal of providing a path to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants, calling it "amnesty."
Although, I understand their opinion, I disagree. And I know most Coloradans do too.
Comprehensive immigration reform won't give amnesty. Instead, it will require accountability for undocumented immigrants who have contributed positively to our society, including registering for legal status, paying taxes owed, learning English, and passing a background check.
These immigrants should not be allowed to jump the line in front of others waiting lawfully for permanent status. But neither should people be shoehorned into existing visa categories, which could force many to wait for decades for green cards.
We need our immigration system to be more responsive to market demands while rewarding lawful immigrants and reuniting families. Failure to do so will create an underclass of Americans, which will continue to fracture families and fuel our nation's immigration problems.
Finally, some opponents of comprehensive immigration reform believe that we only should be allowing high-skilled workers to immigrate.
It's true that we need to vastly increase the number of high-tech, educated foreigners who can work in America. In fact, I've authored legislation that would allow more foreign entrepreneurs to move to our country to start innovative businesses and create good-paying American jobs.
But we need more than just tech workers. We also rely on the skills of our neighbors who work long, hard hours harvesting our crops and building our homes and highways. We must value those neighbors too because America is at its best when we lift up everyone.
So, as Congress debates comprehensive immigration reform, including the DREAM Act, I encourage my fellow Coloradans to make your voices heard. We may not agree on all points, but we can't just put up roadblocks. Instead, we need to find practical solutions.
I'm convinced that immigration reform will help our economy, our families, and our communities. It will strengthen our borders. It will crack down on employers who hire undocumented workers. And it will bring people out of the shadows and put them on a tough but fair path to earned citizenship.
Let's keep bridging the gaps that too often divide us. Let's reform our outdated immigration laws, and let's do it this year.
Mark Udall is Colorado's senior U.S. senator. You can contact Senator Udall by CLICKING HERE.