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How immigration reform would help Chicago

Chicago is a city of immigrants, a microcosm of how new Americans can and do revitalize communities across our country. But for all Americans to benefit from what immigrants can offer, both economically and culturally, we need Congress to reform our immigration laws — thoughtfully, fairly and immediately. This is especially important this fall, as the House mulls critical decisions about reform that could have enormous consequences for our city.

I live in Edgewater, a North Side hub of immigration. If the House passes a comprehensive immigration reform bill like Senate Bill 744, which the Senate passed recently, that would benefit our community. First, it would better save our immigrant neighbors’ families from the trauma of being torn apart by detention and deportation. Second, it would help our undocumented neighbors come out of the shadows, where they’re often exploited. Third, and most important, reform would bring immigrants’ gifts for hard work and entrepreneurship to the table, rejuvenating everything from our business districts to our congregations.

As a pastor, it’s not my passion to make bottom-line arguments. But the data speak for themselves: Immigration reform will bring economic benefits to everyone, native-born and migrant alike:

* The Congressional Budget Office calculates that Senate Bill 744, if it became law, would lower federal budget deficits by more than $200 billion over the next decade. Imagine how Chicago schools and infrastructure could be improved by investing just a fraction of those savings.

* The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an institution known for no-nonsense, bottom-line thinking, reports that immigrant entrepreneurs are strengthening the economy and creating jobs. Imagine how reform could unlock many more Chicago businesses and jobs.

* The Immigration Policy Center’s researchers find that Latino and Asian entrepreneurs and consumers already add tens of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs to Illinois’s economy. Imagine how Chicago’s economy could buzz if all immigrants were buying homes, investing in education, and planning for secure futures.

And as a pastor, morality speaks to me more powerfully than prosperity. As someone whose ministry has been deeply involved in working with immigrants and refugees, I’ve learned that we need to take seriously, at this critical moment, the biblical word from the book of Deuteronomy “you shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

If the House continues to drag its feet on comprehensive immigration reform, it’s most likely we’ll see more human suffering result from our broken system. I’ve seen firsthand how families are separated and how we criminalize immigration and economic migration here in the United States. I’ve interviewed asylum-seekers and undocumented immigrants who are detained in for-profit jails, including 15-year-old children separated from their families. Is that the kind of America in which we want to live?

We need immigration reform because it will help us see and realize the possibilities of how much we belong to each other, and learn from each other, and benefit from everyone being an equitable part of a whole. It’s time for the House of Representatives to follow the Senate’s leadership and pass legislation that mirrors, or improves on, Senate Bill744. Reform will benefit all Americans, new and native-born, in Chicago and around the country, so we need our elected representatives to take action now.

Stephen Bouman is director for domestic ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and former bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod.

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