2020 Democratic presidential candidates talked about impeachment, the economy and foreign policy at this week’s primary debate in Ohio. Not a single candidate focused on fixing our broken immigration system. While many of my Democratic friends such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and others focus solely on President Trump’s most recent efforts at the border, they must acknowledge that these issues are much broader and more complex.

My mother, Eileen Crowley, and all four of my grandparents immigrated to the United States from Ireland, so immigration is personal for me. Growing up, I saw first-hand the challenges many immigrants encounter when they come to our great country. While the president’s tweets and stories about undocumented immigrants or people seeking asylum dominate the news, the fact of the matter is that he is also implementing a short-sighted immigration policy that turns away legal immigrants with specialist skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The ability of the United States to attract future innovators and the entrepreneurs of tomorrow starts with the ability to keep the best students here. Immigrants help to grow American companies and push our country forward. Ensuring America can lead the global economy in the 21st century means a new immigration system — not one developed in the middle of the last century. High-skilled immigration raises the wages of Americans and helps us grow a strong middle class in every part of the country with an expanding and vibrant economy.

The H-1B program is one of our most successful immigration programs allowing high-skilled specialists to help address the U.S. skills gap in the short term while we invest more in education here. Our 2020 Democratic presidential candidates should be aware that only 85,000 high-skilled temporary STEM-skills workers -- such as doctors, scientists and engineers -- are allowed into the United States annually. At the same time, U.S. employers submitted paperwork for nearly 200,000 high-skilled temporary legal immigrant workers in 2018 alone. This comes at a time when the United States has 7.1 million job openings and not enough U.S. workers with specialist skills to fill these positions.  

As a member of the New Democrat wing of the party, I firmly believe that a strong economy helps support a strong middle class. When it comes to high-skilled immigration being a catalyst for economic growth, according to the National Foundation for American Policy, for every H-1B high-skilled position requested, American companies increase their head count by five U.S. workers. In the technology space, that number is even higher, with each H-1B position request associated with an increase of employment of 7.5 U.S. workers. According to a new study by Carnegie Mellon University, H-1B visa restrictions unintentionally push jobs out of the U.S. and lead to less innovation in America. 

Simply put, high-skilled temporary workers help us drive economic growth, strengthen our middle class, and are not a burden to the U.S. taxpayer. In fact, they are quite the opposite. According to the National Academy of Sciences, an immigrant with a university degree who comes to the United States in their mid-20s will pay $504,000 more in U.S. taxes than they consume in lifetime government services. For an immigrant with a master’s degree or Ph.D., the fiscal surplus is almost $1 million. If we want innovation and scientific discovery to take place in the United States, we need to win the global battle for high-skilled talent.   

While we navigate a trade war with China, high-skilled immigration is a powerful weapon to ensure U.S. economic dominance globally. We must continue to work on the U.S. skills gap, and it is imperative that our 2020 Democratic candidates commit to investing more resources in our education system to encourage more young women and men into STEM fields. 

As our Democratic presidential candidates look to turn the page on the Trump presidency, immigration will be a central issue in the general election campaign. In Trump’s America, immigrants of all types are being turned away and demonized. The 2020 Democrats all acknowledge that immigrants make our country great. They must also recognize and emphasize that an increase in the number of high-skilled legal immigrants is good for America and will help us strengthen our middle class.