Every spring, graduates proudly take the walk to receive their diplomas from colleges and universities across Tennessee. Many of them earn degrees in science and technology.
Unfortunately, for those who came here from foreign countries to study, many of them will not be able to stay in Tennessee and put that cutting-edge knowledge to work — thanks to our outdated and broken immigration system.
For a company like Caterpillar, that’s a problem. In today’s increasingly competitive global economy, we, along with businesses across the spectrum of the American economy, need any edge we can get — especially in the race for innovation.
The world is changing, and our competition is global. We need access to the world’s best talent, regardless of where they are born. In an ideal world, we would hire Americans for every job open in America, but we simply aren’t producing enough American graduates in STEM-related fields — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — to fill the jobs we have available.
It’s not just Caterpillar, and it’s not just the business world. Fixing the broken immigration system also matters to the agriculture, construction, faith and law enforcement communities.
I joined leaders from those areas recently as guests of the First Amendment Center in Nashville to discuss immigration reform. It was clear that we all share several basic priorities: We need safe borders, we need to change the laws for both highly skilled and low-skilled workers, and we need a path forward for the millions of undocumented immigrants who live in the United States today.
We need a way to retain the skilled workers who graduate from our universities and those who want to come here and work for American companies. Some of the great American companies were started by immigrants, and we should embrace that history and continue to encourage innovators and entrepreneurs who want to come to America. They will create American jobs, pay taxes and participate in our economy.
First and foremost, reform legislation should strengthen our border — with better security equipment and more patrol personnel. The flow of undocumented immigrants must be stopped if reform is going to mean anything at all.
Tennessee businesses also believe that reform legislation should not make it easy for those already here to attain legal status, but should provide a way for them to come out of the shadows, admit they are here, and begin the completion of a lengthy process to be allowed to stay, if they meet the requirements. It’s not about giving anyone a free pass. It’s about making our nation stronger in terms of our security and our economy.
Innovation and technological brilliance should not be hobbled by an immigration system that clearly does not work.
Our representatives in Congress understand that, and we are counting on them to support real immigration reform.
Wes Blumenshine is General Counsel, Caterpillar Financial, and Deputy General Counsel, Caterpillar Inc.