In today’s political climate, merely mentioning the word “immigration” evokes unease and polarization at every level from our families and neighbors, all the way up to our legislators. The problem, up until now, is that we’ve been having this conversation from emotional and political perspectives rather than looking at the facts.

In Virginia, we have more than a million immigrants – the largest foreign-born population in the Southeast – and the link between that group’s growth and our state’s economic growth is clear. In our congressional district alone, according to new data from New American Economy, immigrants contributed more than $600 million in spending power and paid almost $219 million in taxes in 2014, the most recent year data was available, which is pretty powerful when you consider that they make up less than 5 percent of our total population. What’s more, 67 percent of our district’s
foreign-born population is of working age – defined as being between the ages of 25 and 64, which is more than our native population. So, imagine what sort of economic successes might be possible if we focused on reforming a faulty immigration system that has been complicit in advocating lawlessness? That’s why I want Congress to act. Immigration is a huge boom to our economy and we need reform that will allow us to all prosper.

Imagine, for a moment, having lived in Virginia all your life, save for the first couple years, which you were too young to remember anyway. Should you be punished because your parents found it impossible to raise you and provide you with adequate opportunities in your homeland? That instead of limiting you or leaving you in harm’s way, they left everything they’d ever known behind for a fresh start in the U.S., the only place in the world where all dreams feel possible to attain?

Now imagine a different scenario. You, thanks to pure luck and geography, were born on U.S. soil, automatically making you a legal resident of this great country. You also have dreams and aspirations that you hope to pursue. So how would you feel if one of those opportunities was taken away from you by someone who technically isn’t supposed to be here?

You can see how easy it is to make a compelling argument for either side of the immigration issue, which is why we have to look beyond that in order to move forward. What most people must realize is that we’re actually all on the side of pursuing our dreams peacefully and legally. Immigrants and Americans are not the ones to blame here; we are all the victims of our government’s faulty immigration system that has allowed for illegal immigration to thrive. It’s time we work together and demand our legislators finally act in the best interests of our country.

One thing that most people associate with a prosperous nation is a healthy economy. And what the data shows is that immigrants significantly help bolster that. In our own district, more than 1,200 of the immigrants who live here are entrepreneurs, myself included. I immigrated here from Cuba with my family in 1973. And after serving in the U.S. Army for 26 years, marrying an American girl and starting a family of our own, I retired here to Woodstock. My consulting business, BMOC Group, has provided 16 part- and full-time jobs to local and national residents who contribute to our economic growth. Our district’s other foreign-born neighbors make their contributions via key roles in our local agriculture, hospitality, food, and manufacturing industries, all of which also add to our community’s success.

Today, my family thrives in this country because its people opened their borders and embraced us with love and support. We are thankful for what God has allowed us to endure in our journey, and are unequivocally proud to call ourselves Americans. We cannot forget that we are a nation of immigrants. And I believe other immigrants, who abide by our laws and want to contribute, should be granted the same opportunities that we were.

So far, our leaders have failed to ask. As the voice of dissent grows louder, I encourage you to ask yourself one question: what would Jesus do? Then, please, join us in our efforts to demand that legislators fix our broken immigration system through civil discourse and an exchange of productive and compassionate ideas. Without reform, none of us can live up to our full potential and we cannot – and should not – stand for that any longer.

Jorge Gutierrez is the owner of consulting business, BMOC Group, in Woodstock, and a 26-year veteran of the U.S Army. 

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