WASHINGTON -- Young adults who entered the country as children with their parents years ago and are now illegal should be allowed to stay, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday, calling on Congress to come up with a legislative solution by year's end.
The chamber also said it opposes legislation, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., that would dramatically decrease the number of legal immigrants welcomed into the country.
Senior Vice President Neil Bradley, the chamber's chief policy officer, stated his organization's position during a morning news conference, shortly before scores of the youths in question -- including a group of Arkansans -- fanned out across Capitol Hill to lobby lawmakers.
An executive with IBM and the head of a pro-immigration coalition, FWD.us, also spoke, pleading for congressional action and criticizing Cotton's proposed restrictions on legal immigration.
Nearly 800,000 people have successfully applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program since it was introduced by then-President Barack Obama in 2012.
Most of them were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents and grew up here. Others arrived with proper papers but remained in the country after their visas expired.
Some of them have no memory of their native countries and no family members there to take them in.
The program allowed them to stay in the U.S. legally for two years, shielding them from deportation; after two years, their status can be renewed.
In September, the U.S. Justice Department announced that it was phasing out the program. But the move was delayed six months, with President Donald Trump urging Congress to craft a legislative solution.
The chamber, which calls itself "the world's largest business organization," urged the House and Senate to take action.
On Wednesday, it criticized elected officials for failing to answer Trump's call.
"Two months have now passed, and I'm sad to report that we're arguably further away from a solution today than we were then. This is unacceptable," Bradley said. "If action is not taken by Congress, beginning on March 5, an average of 1,000 individuals a day will lose their ability to legally work and be subject to deportation to a country they have never known. That will happen every day for two years."
Barring these young people from the workforce and kicking them out of the country is "contrary to fundamental American principles and the best interests of our country," he added.
During the news conference, Christopher Padilla, IBM's vice president of government and regulatory affairs, played a video featuring program participants employed by his company.
"At IBM we believe that immigration is a tremendous source of strength for our country. It's part of what makes America different, special and strong," he said. "Just because these Dreamers don't have legal status doesn't make their contributions to our country or to our company any less valuable. We should let them stay. We should let them continue working and living their lives in the only country they've ever known."
Todd Schulte, the president of FWD.us, said the Dreamers, as the young illegals are sometimes called, are gaining allies, ranging from General Motors to Pope Francis.
FWD.us is a tech-industry advocacy group whose founders include Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg.
If Congress fails to act, "the consequences are absolutely devastating," he added.
At Wednesday's news conference, officials also voiced concerns about efforts by Cotton to curtail legal immigration.
In August, Cotton and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., unveiled legislation, known as the Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy -- or RAISE -- Act, which would implement a points-based system for immigration similar to the ones used in Canada and Australia.
Applicants would receive points based on their age, educational attainment, English proficiency, willingness to invest and "record of extraordinary achievement."
Those granted green cards would be able to bring with them their spouses and minor children. But adult children and other relatives would no longer have a pathway to permanent residency or citizenship.
The number of refugees admitted into the United States would be capped at 50,000 per year and a diversity lottery system, which gives preference to applicants from underrepresented nations, would be eliminated.
Researchers say the measure, if approved, would cut legal immigration in half within 10 years of passage and prevent many unskilled workers from gaining entry. Legal immigration lets about 1.1 million people a year into the country.
The legislation has drawn praise from Trump, who helped unveil what he called a "historic and very vital proposal."
But speakers at Wednesday's news conference panned the bill.
The chamber has long advocated for a more skills-based system of immigration, but it doesn't want to see the flow of immigrants slashed.
"We oppose attempts to cut legal immigration as proposed in that legislation," Bradley said, calling it "harmful for the economy and for America as a whole."
Padilla said officials at IBM "fully agree" with that assessment.
"We think immigration is a source of strength for this country, particularly high-skilled immigration, and we oppose the legislation from Sens. Cotton and Perdue," he added.
Cotton spokesman Caroline Tabler defended the measure Wednesday evening, saying it would be good for the nation.
"The RAISE Act would boost our economy and help raise working Arkansans' wages by ending chain migration and giving priority to the most skilled immigrants from around the world -- concepts that Sen. Cotton believes should appeal to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and companies like IBM," she said in a written statement. "We will continue to engage with the Chamber and others to make clear the economic benefits of reorienting our immigration system toward skills."
In addition to the news conference, FWD.us helped nearly 100 young illegals go to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers.
Five Arkansas residents who are DACA recipients and one Texas resident, who has a University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, degree, roamed the halls of Congress on Wednesday, stopping by the offices of the state's four U.S. representatives, who are all Republicans.
Juan Mendez, a Wal-Mart employee from Springdale, said the group had a meeting with U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs and spoke briefly with U.S. Reps. French Hill of Little Rock and Steve Womack of Rogers. They also spent time with staff members for U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford of Jonesboro.
The lobbying trip, he said, had been "very, very, very positive," and the congressmen had been "very encouraging."
"They, I think, were all in agreement that something needs to be done to fix the issue," he said.
He let them know that time is of the essence, he said.
"While we need to fix the problem, it also needs to be soon," he added.
A Section on 11/16/2017
Print Headline: U.S. Chamber opposes Cotton immigrants bill