Editor's note: Every Monday we offer pro/con pieces from the McClatchy-Tribune news service to give readers a broad view of issues.

The United States is a nation of immigrants bound together by the American ideals of individual freedom and responsibility and driven by the limitless opportunities of free enterprise. These powerful draws of freedom and opportunity have brought the world's best and brightest to our shores for generations.

Today, as we face a sluggish economic recovery and persistently high unemployment, immigrants can strengthen our efforts to grow the economy, create jobs and keep America competitive. But to truly leverage the talent, energy, ideas and hard work of immigrants, we must adopt rational reforms to our immigration system. What's at stake if we don't? Innovation, growth and jobs.

According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, immigrant entrepreneurs are responsible for 18 percent of all Fortune 500 companies, pumping $1.7 trillion in annual revenue into our economy and employing 3.7 million workers around the world.

Immigrant-owned small businesses also put Americans to work at home and often connect our markets with customers outside of the United States.

America's top-notch colleges and research institutions also help draw the world's talent. More than half of the master's and doctoral students studying the natural sciences and engineering disciplines at U.S. colleges and universities are foreign born.

Foreign-born individuals with education and expertise in the STEM fields - science, technology, engineering and math - are needed to meet the growing demand for high-skilled workers.

Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce projects that by 2018 there will be 2.8 million job openings in technology-related careers at all levels, but only about 400,000 American STEM graduates with a master's degree or a doctorate. The skills gap will compromise our global competitiveness.

If we're going to continue to attract and retain the world's most creative entrepreneurs who want to better their lives and add to our economy, we've got to adopt a rational immigration policy that harnesses the energy and innovation of enterprising foreigners.

We've got to cut the red tape that holds back enterprising immigrants and ensure that we welcome job creators of every size and in every sector. It's also critical that we enable high-skilled immigrants and foreign students to invest their talent in our knowledge economy.

If we don't, we'll wind up doing something irrational - sending innovation to our competitors at the expense of our own economic growth and job creation.

Thomas J. Donohue is the president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.