Now is the time on immigration reform

The story of immigration in South Florida is the story of America. It is a story of economic opportunity, of freedom from oppression, and of continual renewal for our nation. And it is a story that Americans must learn again if we are to continue to be a beacon to the world.

My family’s own story is one that is told, in its own way, by families across Miami and the Keys. My parents came to the United States seeking freedom and opportunity. My father washed cars at Miami International Airport, while my mother waited tables at the Howard Johnson on Miami Beach. Eventually, my parents started a small business and helped put my brothers and me through school. We didn’t have much money growing up, but my parents taught me that if you worked hard and played by the rules, in America anything is possible.

Unfortunately, the tea party-controlled Congress in Washington seems to have forgotten the morals of this story, and their dysfunction threatens the fundamental values which make our country great. They forget that the immigrants who have come to our shores bring not only new cultures, but also new ideas that spur the engine of our country’s future economic growth. They have forgotten that America has always been made richer, not poorer, by the entrepreneurial spirit and drive that burns in our newest citizens. And they have forgotten that, in order to remain that Shining City on a Hill to the world, America must welcome those who flee oppression or who seek opportunity with open arms.

While some in Congress may have forgotten these values, Floridians have not. That is why I support comprehensive immigration reform.

Immigration reform needs to include several components, such as: providing a reasonable path for those immigrants who have entered the country to become citizens after they go through a legal process; reforming our legal immigration system to better take into account our economic and security interests; expanding our visa program to allow highly skilled workers who fuel our economy and expanding our guest worker program; moving forward with the DREAM Act to provide a path for students who grew up in the United States to become citizens; and educating those students — as the Florida Legislature has discussed — by offering in-state tuition to these young Americans at public education institutions, so that our next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders can finally come out of the shadows and make a difference in their communities.

The time to act is now. We must honor the will of the voters who have called on us to be bold and resist the all too familiar approach of postponing tough decisions or putting forth an underwhelming solution to our problems.

These core principles to reform our immigration system reflect the very best of American values, and they deserve a champion in Congress. The story of our community in South Florida is a story that the entire country can learn from. It is a story of opportunity and freedom, and it is a story that I am committed to telling so that more Americans can make my family’s story their own.

U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia is the congressman from Florida’s 26th District, covering Monroe County and part of Miami-Dade. He serves on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration.

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