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Consalvo pens letter to Boehner on immigration reform

District 5 Councillor Rob Consalvo, a mayoral candidate whose council district is majority-minority, sent a letter on Wednesday to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, urging “swift passage” of an immigration reform bill. Noting that Boston has the sixth highest percentage of foreign-born residents, Consalvo, a grandson of immigrants, wrote, “too many of Boston’s residents are trapped in a Byzantine system that limits their potential contributions to our community and the nation.”

The U.S. Senate passed an immigration reform bill last month on a bipartisan vote, though the effort appears to be losing momentum in the Republican-dominated House that is looking ahead to midterm elections.

Consalvo, a former aide to the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, acknowledged a House committee’s role in lawmaking. “However, the longer this process is dragged out, the greater the risk that it will die in committee,” he wrote. “I respectfully ask that you remain vigilant to make sure this important legislation does not fall victim to partisan gridlock.”

Consalvo’s letter is below:

Dear Mr. Speaker:

I am writing to urge you to do all you can to ensure swift passage of fair, comprehensive immigration reform. As a City Councilor in Boston, I am all too familiar with the real-life implications that a Congressional stalemate on this issue would mean to our community and our economy.

A century ago, my grandparents left their homes and loved ones in search of a better life for their children here in Boston. It was difficult starting over, but they loved their adopted country and became model citizens who worked, paid their taxes and served their communities. That same passion for a better life continues to bring people from around the world to our shores. Over the past two decades, Boston’s foreign-born population has risen steadily. Today, 27 percent of those living in Boston were born outside the United States; it has the sixth highest percentage of foreign-born residents of any American city.

Some have come to study at one of Boston’s world-renowned universities. Others have come here to seek asylum from political persecution. Many have joined family already in the area. And yes, some foreign-born Bostonians likely have overstayed their visas or otherwise have violated our nation’s immigration rules. But each of these immigrants has a common aspiration – the American Dream. That ambition has driven each of them to make some sort of a contribution to our city and our community.

All of us can agree that our immigration system is broken. Whether it is a high-skilled foreign-born worker seeking to join a Boston start-up or an American soldier who was brought here as a child, too many of Boston’s residents are trapped in a Byzantine system that limits their potential contributions to our community and the nation.

Those living under the constant fear of deportation do not seek the support that could help them assimilate. The US Census has shown a slow, but alarming uptick in the number of Boston households without a resident 14 years or older who is capable of speaking English well enough to navigate daily living. The rise in linguistically-isolated households has a direct effect on everything from their children’s school readiness to helping their children pursue the kind of opportunities that lead to college. Until the nation’s immigration laws are modernized and these families are on a path to citizenship, it is nearly impossible for them to access the kind of basic city services that can help their children succeed.

On the other end of the spectrum, too many high-skilled new Americans are trapped in professional limbo as they wait years for action on their green card applications. With less than six percent of the nation’s visas awarded to high-skilled workers, many graduate students are forced to leave the country after earning their degree. I am sure we can agree that it defies common sense to educate foreign students only to force them out of country and into the employment of international corporate competitors. In Boston, this is a particular threat to our economy. Boston has received the most research funding from the National Institute of Health (NIH) of any city for 18 years in a row. These grants usually are awarded to universities with robust research programs. Half of the students enrolled our region’s leading STEM graduate programs are foreign-born. If we are not able to attract the best and brightest and keep them in our community after graduation we threaten the research pipeline that has made Boston a leader in biotechnology innovations.

For centuries, a constant flow of new Americans has kept Boston fresh and full of new ideas. Like the Pilgrims before them, millions of Irish, Italians, Latinos, Haitians, Cape Verdeans and immigrants from far-flung lands across the globe see Boston as a shining city on a hill and a beacon of freedom. Our community thrives because of the countless contributions these generations of immigrants have made. Some are high profile; some are as simple as raising a family and being good citizens. But all have made Boston the city it is today.

I believe that immigration reform should be guided by four principles. First, the legal immigration system must be overhauled to make it easier, clearer and faster for people to legally immigrate to our country. Second, we must recognize the role that foreign-born knowledge workers are making to our nation’s economy and seek to create a market-based, fair system that attracts and keeps the best and brightest on our shores. Third, we must do everything we can to keep families together by providing those who are here illegally with a tough, but fair, path to citizenship. Lastly, reforms must address the tragic disparity in treatment faced by LGBT immigrants and bi-national couples.

In June, a bipartisan Senate majority approved a bill that addressed many of these principles. The bill would require significant investments in border security. Undocumented foreign-born individuals living in the U.S. would have to meet certain credentials including paying all taxes and fines, meeting all work requirements and learning English before they could pursue a lengthy path to citizenship. Finally, would expand opportunities for employers to hire the best and brightest knowledge workers from around the world, without fear that they will lose them to the vagaries of an outdated system.

I understand the challenges you face and applaud your commitment to the committee process as the foundation for successful legislation. However, the longer this process is dragged out, the greater the risk that it will die in committee. I respectfully ask that you remain vigilant to make sure this important legislation does not fall victim to partisan gridlock.

There is bipartisan support for action on this issue. Members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation have been leaders in pushing for a common sense, fair bill that would modernize our outdated immigration system. I respectfully urge you to work with courageous leaders like them to create the kind of bipartisan coalition that can ensure passage of this historic bill.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, I have one more request. As Congress debates this important issue, please help make sure that the tone of this debate remains respectful. We live in a nation of immigrants. Vicious and callous attacks on those who have come here to pursue the American dream only undermine the diversity that has made our country great.

The city of Boston looks forward to your leadership on this important issue. Thank you.

Respectfully,

Rob Consalvo
Boston City Councilor