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McAllen Monitor: U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar: Reform immigration now

Last week in Washington, I joined with three of my colleagues to urge the U.S. House of Representatives to act on the national momentum to enact immigration reform. As part of two Democrats and two Republicans, it was a unique moment to discuss how we can fix our broken immigration system. I thank my fellow members of Congress, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Rep. David Valadao R-Calif., and Rep. Albio Sires, D-N.J., for joining me to address the nation.

As the fall legislative calendar begins, and we are confronted with pressing fiscal and national security issues, the window for Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform is narrowing. Soon enough, we will find ourselves in a new year, and all the pressures of campaign season will descend upon Congress. And soon after, we will find ourselves in the midst of the 2016 presidential race. I encourage my colleagues to act on this unique moment to develop an immigration reform plan that fixes a severely broken system.

As the son of migrant workers and a first generation American, I understand the impact that immigrants can have on our country. My father was born in Mexico in Guerrero, Tamaulipas and only reached a third-grade level of schooling. My mother, though born in the United States, reached only the sixth grade. I am the oldest of eight children and still remember playing in the fields as a child while my parents picked crops. Now, after years of hard work and dedication to gaining a higher education, I am a United States congressman. Only in America is this story possible. And only in America are immigrants, like my father, welcomed and given the opportunity to change their circumstances.

Others have similarly been successful products of the legal immigration process. More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Jointly, those companies employ more than 10 million people and generate annual revenue of $4.2 billion. These are companies like Google, AT&T, and McDonald’s that employ Americans in every part of the country. Immigrants are also more than twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a new business. In these hard economic times, we cannot afford to turn away any entrepreneurs.

In Texas, it is estimated that immigration reform would boost the state’s economic output in 2014 by $3.8 billion dollars and create 43,097 new jobs. Currently, more than 20 percent of the Texas labor force — that’s more than one in five workers — is foreign-born. Almost a quarter of Texas business owners are immigrants and they generate more than $10 billion in income every year.

We must develop legislation that includes a viable border security plan that limits the influx of illegal immigrants and visa overstays; a guest worker plan that provides an avenue for farm workers and high-skilled employees to benefit our economy, and legalization for the estimated 12 million immigrants who are currently living here illegally.

As a life-long resident of the border, I know intimately that our country is one of immigrants. That is our strength and we must continue to welcome the ambitious, the driven, and the hopeful people who come to our shores to build a better life. I look forward to working with my fellow members of Congress to ensure that the opportunities I have had are available to all those pursuing the American dream.

Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar is a member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, vice chairman of the House Steering and Policy Committee, senior whip, and member of the Blue Dog Coalition.