WSJ: Bloomberg on Immigration Reform and Economics17 May 2011
The lack of Congressional action on comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) has led several states to take up their own immigration bills, all purporting to bring some aspects of our broken system under control – at the state level, anyway. Never mind the fact that, with few exceptions, these state immigration bills almost certainly will be shot down as soon as the Supreme Court gets around to it. Immigration law remains a federal domain, and state legislation – no matter how brilliantly conceived or well intentioned – cannot change that. For all of the energy expended fighting for and against S.B. 1070 and its copycat bills, the nation has little to show for it; the need for CIR has become more urgent, but the state-level immigration bills seem only to have taken the pressure off of Congress to take meaningful and decisive action in this area.
As New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made clear in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, he would like nothing more than to put the pressure back on – out of sheer economic necessity. (See A New Immigration Consensus, by Michael R. Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, 02.May.2011.) If we wish to remain competitive in the world economy, Bloomberg argues, we simply cannot afford to wait any longer for our immigration policy to catch up; we need to fix it now! Bloomberg categorically rejects the idea that a bipartisan CIR bill is impossible in the prevailing political climate; in his view, “. . . a new consensus on immigration reform has emerged in the business community that could break the logjam and provide a much-needed jolt to our economy. The idea is simple: Reform the way we attract and keep talented and hard-working people from abroad to better promote economic growth.”
According to Mayor Bloomberg, America owes its success to an open-door policy toward immigrants; he notes that “smart, self-motivated immigrants spur the innovations and create the jobs our economy needs to thrive,” pointing to the oft-cited statistic that a quarter of the high-tech startups in the U.S. had at least one immigrant founder, during the decade spanning 1995 and 2005, and created 450,000 jobs here, most filled by Americans. Our immigration policy should reflect our economic needs, Bloomberg argues in his Wall Street Journal piece, and this means we need to do a better job recruiting and retaining more “smart, self-motivated immigrants” – the best and brightest minds in science and engineering, the most capable and ambitious entrepreneurs, the hard-working laborers who keep our farms running, and so on.
Bloomberg is a leading spokesman for the Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan group of mayors and business leaders, economic pragmatists who want to push the immigration debate beyond the entrenched ideological positions of both sides, into a zone of common interests and shared stakeholdership. As he writes in the Wall Street Journal:
Those who focus on where the parties differ on immigration, rather than where they both agree, have paralyzed the debate in Washington for far too long. Despite this deadlock, there is an opportunity for both parties to seize upon the economics of immigration reform and focus on what all Americans agree we need: more jobs. Leaders of both parties talk about creating jobs, but they are ignoring the voices of business leaders who can actually create them – if only Congress would give them the tools.
This sentiment was echoed in a recent commentary on Forbes.com by Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the U.S. Consumer Electronics Association. (See Unrealistic U.S. Immigration Policies Push Away China’s Best And Brightest, by Gary Shapiro, Forbes.com, 28.Apr.2011.) Shapiro warned that other nations – like China – that once were major exporters of talent, are now taking steps to reverse the brain drain. These days, Shapiro says, the Chinese government is having a much easier time luring its sons and daughters back home from western universities – advanced degrees in hand – thanks to the perverse incentives of our immigration system, which make it harder for talented foreigners to stay here after graduation:
“A Chinese citizen studying in the U.S. has very few options when his or her schooling has ended, because the U.S. doesn’t provide many pathways to citizenship after graduation. In fact, the U.S. generally requires foreign students to leave the country once they receive their graduate degrees. Ironically, the federal government funds much of our foreign students’ work to obtain their degrees in research at top American universities. When we educate Chinese citizens who then return home, it means American taxpayers are helping to educate and fund our emerging hi-tech competition abroad. And, in case you haven’t noticed, that competition is getting mighty stiff these days.”
Like Mayor Bloomberg, Shapiro calls for an immigration policy that is “strategically crafted to bolster American competitiveness by fostering creativity, innovation and success.” Focusing on the economic benefits of immigration reform may be the most effective way to move the immigration debate forward; fear-mongering and xenophobia have had their turn, without anything more to show for it than a handful of state laws, living, as it were, on borrowed time. Bloomberg and Shapiro are right: we can ill afford to wait any longer on CIR. Congress needs to come together on this issue, before it’s too late.