The immigration plan America needs

America has now endured two government shutdowns, brought on by different disagreements over immigration—the most recent clocking in at the longest, most difficult and most costly in history. It has put into stark relief how divisive this debate has become—and it has made Americans both rightly frustrated and more eager to find a way forward and achieve a real immigration solution, the kind that so far has evaded successive congresses and presidents.

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This is a complex problem, and while the solution must be a wholistic one, it is not difficult to recognize what the core components must be. They will not be entirely Democratic priorities; they will not be entirely Republican priorities. It will take a mixture of both to deliver a plan that will work for the American people—and earn their trust.

This is the kind of solution for which manufacturers have long advocated. But calling for a solution is one thing. It is another to actually offer one. So, with Congress in desperate need of a solution, the National Association of Manufacturers is releasing our plan, “A Way Forward,” for our broken immigration system.

Manufacturers are in the business of building solutions, and we have tackled far more difficult problems—from advancing spaceflight to developing lifesaving medicines, from innovating smart devices to producing autonomous vehicles. We build the products we depend on for our daily lives. Sure, we build walls, but we also build bridges. And now we want to build consensus on immigration.

We know that certain components will be unsatisfactory to some groups. That is the nature of compromise. Our current situation demands a comprehensive approach, and that can only be reached if everyone is willing to cede a little ground to accomplish their own top priorities. Our proposal is designed to make that possible.

It includes seven core components:

  •  Build walls, fences and barriers and employ other measures to strengthen border security.
  •  Prioritize America’s workforce needs through reforms to the legal immigration system.
  •  Reform nonimmigrant visas and temporary worker programs to reflect employer needs, including a fund to support STEM programs so that we can reduce the need for these types of visas in the future.
  •  Provide a permanent and compassionate solution for populations facing uncertainty, including the Dreamers, who were brought here as children and know no other home.
  •  Reform asylum and refugee programs for a more orderly and humane system, including asylum standards consistent with our values.
  •  Fix the problem of the unauthorized population with a firm reset, requiring an orderly process of review, including financial penalties for those who seek to become legal and deportation for those who choose to stay in the shadows.
  •  Strengthen the rule of law so that it is respected and followed by all, with a focus on gang violence and also on requiring localities to cooperate to advance the enforcement of immigration priorities.

Our plan lays out in detail the steps to achieve these components. And if our leaders take this path, the result will be a safer America and a stronger, smarter economy. We will have given those who deserve it a chance to be a productive and contributing part of our country. We will be able to welcome new people to our shores in a safe, efficient and respectful way. and we will have upheld the values that make this nation of immigrants an exceptional nation: free enterprise, competitiveness, individual liberty and equal opportunity.


America’s rich heritage and global economic influence have been made possible by generations of immigrants who have had the courage to leave their homelands, families and fortunes to make America their new home. Yet, we have failed them—and indeed all Americans as well—by subjecting our immigration system to decades of neglect. And the failure, even inability, to enforce existing laws has eroded the confidence of our citizens in the sanctity of our borders.

Today, our leaders have a chance to right this wrong, to restore confidence in our system and lay the foundation for a better immigration system—and a better future. With a pragmatic approach and shared commitment to bolstering national security, showing compassion and strengthening the American workforce, we can seize this opportunity.

Jay Timmons is president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.