WASHINGTON — Immigration reform must include both a secured border and a path to legal status for immigrants illegally residing in the United States, Rep. Justin Amash told a crowd of young conservative activists during a Q-and-A session at the Leadership Institute Wednesday morning.
“With the kind of system we currently have, where you can come into the country and get all sorts of benefits, you have to have a secure border,” Amash, a Michigan Republican, said. “You can’t just have people flowing in freely.”
Amash believes a streamlined legal immigration process would improve border security. “If people can get here legally, they are less likely to come here illegally,” he said.
Democrats and Republicans remain at loggerheads with one key aspect of immigration reform — namely, what to do about immigrants already in the U.S. illegally. The partisan divide between the two parties makes the possibility of immigration reform uncertain, with Democrats unwilling to repair the existing immigration system and Republicans balking at granting citizenship to over 11 million immigrants living and working in the U.S. illegally.
“I know for a fact that many Democrats in Congress are opposed to improving the legal immigration system,” Amash said. “They’re not that interested in it. The particularly want citizenship status for those who come here illegally. Republicans want to improve the legal immigration system.”
Amash favors a compromise: a level playing field.
“We can have a path to legal status for those who have come here illegally, but they don’t get any special path to citizenship,” he said. “They would be allowed to become legal residents at some point, and then they are on the normal system like anyone else. They don’t move to the front of the line to become citizens.”
A strained and dysfunctional immigration process creates labor shortages, according to Amash, who expressed concern that the most capable workers are shut out by the system.
“If you have no good legal immigration system, you have a shortage of labor in those industries,” Amash said. “In high-tech industries, in the areas of science and medicine, we have a shortage of labor. We need immigration. We need a better immigration system to bring people in who can work in these fields. There are people who want to come here who can’t get in.”
Amash has consistently emphasized the need for compromise on immigration reform in his public appearances and a viable means of working with immigrants currently working in the U.S. In April, Amash hosted a town hall meeting at the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan and met with Michigan area farmers and researchers, industries hungry for inexpensive labor, with his colleague and former immigration attorney Raul Labrador, an Idaho Republican, MLive reported. Each congressman raised $3,440 from a subsequent fundraiser, according to FEC filings.
“Right now, the problem we face is there is no good, legal system,” Amash told the Hispanic Center audience, according to MLive. “People often talk about a line, getting in a line to come to this country, but there is no good line right now. What we need to create is a good system for people to come here legally.”