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Welcome the best and brightest
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A lot can happen in three years. Between now and 2016, there will be somewhere close to 150,000 children born in Utah. In those same three years, as many as 5 billion mobile phones could be sold around the world, and the International Space Station will go around the earth more than 17,000 times.

In a world where so many things will happen, there's no reason for Congress to sit on its hands when it comes to fixing our immigration system. If our leaders in Congress keep putting the brakes on immigration reform, they're going to waste valuable time, hurt our economy and give other countries a huge head start at growing their economies at our expense.

The last time America's immigration system was overhauled it took three years. We don't need three years to see what's wrong: It takes too long and it is much too hard for good people to get in, and we're not doing well enough at keeping lawbreakers out. Comprehensive reform of the system is the only way to get things right.

The world is much larger than just our 50 states. For every one of us here, there are more than 20 people living in other countries — yet we have at least a fifth of the world's economic power. That's a real tribute to the great ingenuity of our people and the resilience of our economic system.

It's no wonder that so many of the world's best and brightest want in. But what is a wonder is that we don't welcome more of them. It's like we've been given not just a single first-round draft pick, but virtually every pick in the entire first round — yet we make it nonsensically hard for smart, skillful, and entrepreneurial people to come here.

Faced with an immigration system that doesn't make sense, many of them give up and stay in other places, rather than bringing their talents to America. That's not smart for us, and it's not good for our economy, especially at a time when we're still looking for ways to spark growth.

Talk about immigration reform shouldn't slip into stale stereotypes. We're talking about fixing a system that's keeping out aerospace engineers and surgeons, architects and accountants, computer programers and microbiologists. We need to fix a system that's keeping us from welcoming more people who want to leave Europe because its banks are a mess, or China because they want to speak their minds, or Russia because there's more hope here.

We need 21st century ways of bringing more of the right people here because we're in a 21st century global economy, and America is the place to let the best ideas and idea-makers flourish.

Today's backwards and patchwork immigration system is a national problem, but we in Utah have a voice in the process. We should insist that our senators and representatives work at a pace that reflect today's speed of thought. Waiting will only make our situation worse and give other nations time and opportunity to challenge us more, at a moment when things have already been too tough for too long.

I want to thank Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee for their current efforts and ask them and their colleagues in the Senate to act quickly on our behalf to make thoughtful immigration reform a reality.

E.J. "Jake" Garn is a retired U.S. senator (1974-1993), the first sitting member of Congress to fly in space, a former mayor of Salt Lake City and a Republican.

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