Special to the Herald: New state compact recognizes immigration is our future

Nothing is more American than the dreams of an immigrant. The courage and determination to leave your old life to build a better future for yourself and your children defines our nation; but from the beginning it also has divided us. We Americans have always disagreed over immigration.

Today, we are searching for a new national consensus on immigration policy, one that involves both of our great political parties. Congress will once again this year attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform. This time we must succeed, and this state can help lead the way.

Leaders in Washington's business, faith, agriculture and law enforcement communities have come together to sign the Washington Compact, a set of five principles that are intended to frame discussions about immigration reform in our state this year, and we hope it will create a model for the debate at the federal level.

The compact recognizes that under our constitutional system, immigration is a federal issue, and our federal leaders must offer a balanced solution. We must strengthen federal laws to protect our nation's borders and create a fair path to legal status for those without documentation.

Border security must be part of a comprehensive solution. While there is no doubt that our borders are more secure than in the past, more remains to be done to ensure that resources we spend on the border, at a time when resources are limited, are effectively used.

The compact acknowledges how vital immigration is to a growing free market economy, particularly in Washington. Every study done, including those done by conservative groups such as the Cato Institute and the Brookings Institution, confirm that immigrants of all skill levels bring vitality and growth to our economy.

As economies in many parts of the world stagnate because of aging populations, immigration holds the key to future American growth. Nowhere is that more true than here in Washington, where our economy is based on trade, technology and agriculture. To compete in a global economy we need the economic engine of immigration.

In addition, we recognize that to keep our communities safe, local law enforcement resources should focus on criminal activities, not civil violations of federal code.

We also acknowledge that strong families are the foundation of successful and cohesive communities. We oppose policies that unnecessarily separate families. We champion policies that support families and improve the health, education and well-being of all Washington's families and children.

Finally, we state clearly that hundreds of thousands of immigrants are integrated into communities across Washington state today. We must adopt a humane approach to this reality, reflecting our unique culture, history and spirit of inclusion. The way we treat immigrants will say more about us as a free society and less about our immigrant neighbors. Washington should always be a place that welcomes people of good will.

An impressive cross section of leaders and groups have already signed on to the Washington Compact, including the Association of Washington Business, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Washington Growers League and 14 other groups representing agriculture, and numerous churches and faith groups.

Reflecting the bipartisan spirit of the compact, Republican leaders, including former Secretary of State Sam Reed and former Congressman Sid Morrison, are signers. They join two former legislators and chairmen of the Washington State Republican Party, Dale Foreman and Chris Vance.

We hope more leaders will join us in the weeks ahead as Congress moves towards a historic vote. Immigration is our heritage and the key to our future. It is time for a new consensus; a new compact.

w Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business. Mike Gempler is executive director of the Washington Growers League.