Sen. Lisa Wellman gave the following speech on Feb. 12 in the Senate Law & Justice Committee regarding Senate Bill 5497, the Keep Washington Working Act:

America is a nation of immigrants. Indeed, with the exception of our tribal nations, that IS our heritage. And it has served our country well.

I think of the challenges so many faced leaving their homelands and facing the uncertainty of coming to a foreign country to build a life. I love that that’s who we are.

That’s the story I heard from my aunts around the kitchen table. Of my grandma from the Ukraine who decided there was no future there and took six children and a reluctant husband with her to found a dairy in New Haven. Or my grandfather from Austria who came as a young man to build a life in the garment district of New York. And where many of his descendants helped build an industry.

That energy, that drive for a better future, has fueled the United States, making us a nation of pioneers, of entrepreneurs, of dreamers and builders envied around the world.

We see that in our Washington state economy. We rely on that influx of drive and ambition. Today nearly one million Washingtonians — that’s almost one in seven — is an immigrant.

But, due to the lack of a comprehensive, rational immigration policy on the part of our federal government, our state and our economy has challenges.

Although this has been going on for many years, for many of us the issue became visible one evening at SeaTac Airport. Executives returning from business trips abroad, were stopped at SeaTac and held. Those images of Governor Inslee and Attorney General Ferguson rushing to the airport to intervene stay with many of us. Far from feeling safe and welcomed home, those businessmen were threatened. As a former business executive myself I can tell you that creating a positive business environment is essential to keeping the business thriving and keeping your workforce happy. A hostile one – drives people away.

And that’s what this bill is about. Immigrants and our economy. Keeping Washington a great place to do business, invest, start a company that changes the world — entrepreneurship is what we’re about.

Almost one third of workers at Microsoft are here on visas. They come to work at a company that HAS changed the world. They buy homes in our communities, give their children music lessons, support the Arts and nonprofits, and, when the grandparents come to visit (sometimes for a month at a time) spoil their grandchildren outrageously as is the right of all grandparents.

Those employees don’t have to stay in Washington to stay with Microsoft — they can move to offices in BC – Canada would have them in a minute.

But this isn’t just about tech workers. You can’t run a hospital without immigrants providing services. The medical sector depends on them.

Or run a hotel without immigrants in the back of house. The hospitality industry depends on them.

Or harvest the apples that we’re known around the world for.

We need to support our thriving economy by keeping that welcoming, safe business environment that brought us here — that brought them here.

Our state, county and city agencies, the ones WE fund with OUR taxpayer dollars, need to work for Washingtonians.

Our safety officers — policemen, firemen, state patrolmen (and women) that we pay with our tax dollars need to work for Washingtonians.

This bill mandates that they will.

It does not prevent federal employees from doing the jobs the Federal government employs them to do.

Keep Washington Working puts our resources where we want them — building safer, healthy, communities and a thriving economy.

I commend this bill to you and ask for your support.