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Immigrants vital to life of nation

As director of ministry programs for The Lutheran Foundation in Fort Wayne, I’ve seen how new Americans like myself fit into the city.

From congregations to campuses, I’ve observed how immigrants strengthen our community’s values. Most of us come from societies where family is the center of life. Because of these family values, we contribute to making Fort Wayne a city where “everybody knows your name.”

Alongside those values often comes a dedication to hard work. These social and economic contributions are why Indiana has so much to gain from immigration reform.

I’m writing because I was heartened to see Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly take a principled and positive stand by helping to pass Senate Bill 744, the immigration reform bill. I urge our Indiana delegation in the House of Representatives to create legislation that mirrors S.744’s strengths—because immigration reform is vital to our economy and community.

Indiana needs job creators and a stable labor force. This is where new Americans can and do have a huge impact. The labor that immigrants provide is not theoretical; it is real. Moreover, people who leave behind everything – family, friends, home – to journey into the unknown are often entrepreneurial.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that immigrants create businesses at a higher rate than native-born Americans. Their investment of back-breaking work can revitalize neighborhoods.

These contributions stand in contrast to the drain our broken immigration system imposes on America. The status quo tears families apart through deportations and leaves businesses without steady workers. The House must keep this in mind as they create immigration legislation.

It’s not just Lutherans who are speaking up for immigration reform. The majority of Americans are calling for reform that keeps families together and offers a roadmap to earned citizenship for 11 million aspiring new Americans.

The bipartisan consensus on S.744 is encouraging. This legislation benefits both newcomers and U.S. citizens in five key areas.

First, it helps protect families from separation and better ensures a sufficient supply of visas for some families with loved ones overseas.

Second, it provides a roadmap through which undocumented people could earn citizenship.

Third, it improves the just enforcement of immigration laws by shrinking the use of immigrant detention and expanding community support programs.

Fourth, it boosts the protection of U.S. citizen and migrant workers.

Finally, it creates more efficient processes to protect refugees and vulnerable migrants.

What strikes me about S.744 is that children are among the biggest beneficiaries. The bill contains increased legal protections for unaccompanied migrant children facing detention and improves protections for refugee children. These are critical measures. All children need loving families, and many need protection from crimes like human trafficking.

The bill is a good start, but more work looms. Now is the time for bipartisan leadership in the House of Representatives to introduce similar – or better –legislation. Our elected officials should know that our communities—which are theirs, too—will benefit.

Yohannes Mengsteab, was born and raised in Eritrea, East Africa. He came to the United States in 1983 as a refugee from the Ethio-Eritrean War. He holds degrees from a Lutheran college and seminaries. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.