As the mayor of Florida’s third-largest city, I see the consequences of inaction on immigration every day. Every part of our economy, from technology to agriculture to trade and tourism, is affected by immigration policy. As we compete for jobs and talent, comprehensive immigration reform is an important part of our future growth.
Our system is broken, and all of our hard-working residents deserve better. By strengthening border security and enforcement, creating a path to citizenship for those who are willing to earn it, streamlining legal immigration, and truly recognizing that immigrants are a valuable part of our economy and society, we can create comprehensive immigration reform that works.
It seems appropriate that we address this during the 500-year anniversary of Ponce de Leon discovering Florida. That started a long history of immigrants building their future in our state. From the first settlers in St. Augustine, to the cigar rollers of Ybor City, and the thousands of Cuban immigrants who fled to South Florida in hopes of finding the American dream, immigrants have always been a part of our state’s history.
In Florida today, there are more than 700,000 undocumented workers supporting our economy. They start businesses, farm more than 9 million acres of land, keep our tourism industry humming, and are a part of our communities. Our state is a gateway for international trade, and hundreds of billions of dollars in exports depend on the continued success and growth of these industries.
Our future economy depends on reform.
Our schools have more than 140,000 undocumented students, and our colleges train in excess of 30,000 people each year only to see them leave to work, start companies or file patents a half a world away. Our technology and biomedical companies are growing and have a number of high-skilled job openings but might move elsewhere. We need to stop handing graduates a degree only to ask them to leave when they can contribute here.
For Florida cities to compete globally, we need comprehensive immigration reform that supports these critical parts of our economy. Passing common-sense reforms will do just that while giving dignity to hundreds of thousands of our neighbors.
There is no place for partisanship in this debate. Supporting immigration reform that can give our next generation equal opportunity and strengthens our economy is just simple common sense.
Bob Buckhorn is the mayor of Tampa.