A Pilgrim is defined in most dictionaries as a person who makes a long and difficult journey to reach a sacred place. As we begin the Thanksgiving holiday, we are reminded that those pilgrims who shared a feast with Native Americans in 1621 traversed the Atlantic to find a sacred place. It wasn’t a shrine or a religious place, but America was sacred to them because it represented freedom from oppression and the opportunity to build a better life.

Freedom and opportunity have been, and continue to be, the defining sacred spirit of our society. Since that first day of Thanksgiving in New England, there have been countless other pilgrims seeking that ethos. From those initial northern Europeans, to the parade of humanity including Germans, Irish, Italians, eastern Europeans, Asian, and Latin Americans — every generation has seen a new influx of pilgrims with the same desire for a better life.

While these immigrants have benefited from coming to this land, those who were already here benefited as well. New arrivals fueled our economic engine and kept the fire of freedom burning, because they know first-hand what a society can be without the liberties so many of us take for granted.

For 400 years, pilgrims to America have left their homes in search of new opportunities for themselves and their families. Their willingness to begin with difficult jobs led to new opportunities, and so did their spirit of entrepreneurship. It’s no wonder so many of the small businesses that start up and thrive here in Los Angeles and throughout the country are created by the newest pilgrims to our land.

These are some of the many reasons why comprehensive immigration reform has been a top federal priority for the Chamber in recent years. President Obama’s action last week will provide temporary assistance to many, but this is a stop gap action. It is important that the business community continue to be focused and insistent that Congress pass true immigration reform that invigorates the spirit of opportunity that is the foundation and the future of the United States of America.

Whether your family’s pilgrimage to the United States was recent or long ago, I wish each of you a happy and blessed Thanksgiving.