Jan. 24 — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) Jan. 24 called on Congress to overhaul the current immigration system, an effort that both men said would attract needed workers to the U.S. and spur economic growth.
“We need comprehensive immigration reform,” Snyder said during a discussion at the National Press Club. The event was sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Republicans for Immigration Reform and the Partnership for a New American Economy. “To be blunt, we have a dumb system. We should stand up and acknowledge that and say ‘let's put something better in place,' ” he said.
The governor and former mayor said immigration reform is a vital tool for economic development, particularly in areas ravaged by the recent recession. They also expressed confidence that federal lawmakers can come together on a mutually agreeable plan.
“It's up to the leadership,” Bloomberg said, referring to President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). “If Boehner wants to get it done in the House, he can get it done. Reid can get it done in the Senate and the President can help. You just have to have people wanting to do it.”
Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg BNA parent Bloomberg LP.
Meanwhile, Snyder pointed to a handful of measures currently in development in Michigan that he said are designed to attract immigrant workers to the state. Among them, he said he recently asked the Obama administration to provide 50,000 work visas for highly skilled immigrants willing to live and work in Detroit for at least five years.
Snyder and Bloomberg were joined in the discussion by former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, a member of Republicans for Immigration Reform's board of directors, and Randy Johnson, senior vice president of labor, immigration and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The bill also would have created a 10- to 13-year pathway to legalization and eventual citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S., contingent on the payment of back taxes and various fines. It wasn't voted on in the House.
Opponents to immigration overhaul argue that the measures would double the number of available guestworker visas and shrink wages by flooding the job market with millions of low-skilled, permanent immigrant workers.
The governor and the former mayor rejected the idea that an influx of new workers will make it harder for unemployed and underemployed citizens to find jobs. Instead, they maintained that bringing in foreign workers at both ends of the spectrum—to fill both high skill and low skill positions—can open the door to new opportunities for existing American workers.
For example, Bloomberg said a foreign worker who comes to the U.S. and starts a technology company can create jobs, while low-skilled immigrant workers who take positions picking fruit may increase the need for additional workers along the supply chain.
“We need fresh blood coming in,” Bloomberg said. “They'll create businesses, they'll fix the schools and they'll fix up the houses. They'll create the economies and they'll create jobs for the Americans that are here today.”
Snyder also argued that part of the reason that recent reform attempts have stalled in Congress is that some lawmakers are bogged down by intricate details rather than focusing on the big picture. “Is this going to be perfect, in terms of the next round of reform? No, but it could be something practical that would be a quantum leap forward,” he said.
On Jan. 23, he announced that he had asked Obama for 50,000 visas over the next five years to lure highly skilled immigrants to Detroit. He called the proposal an “outstanding opportunity” that would “turbocharge” the local economy.
Bloomberg agreed. “I've never thought of a better idea of how we can fix not just Detroit, but some of these old industrial cities whose industry went away,” he said.
Snyder also said he was working to launch a state “Office of New Americans” in an effort to adjust attitudes about immigration and welcome potential newcomers to Michigan.
In a November 2013 poll sponsored by the Partnership for a New American economy, 76 percent of respondents said they believed the U.S. immigration system is “broken” and more than half (52 percent) said they were more likely to vote for an elected official who votes for immigration reform.
But Bloomberg asserted that the current logjam on immigration reform is partly a result of a system in which a small number of special interest groups have a disproportionate influence over the country's leaders.
“You've got to go and convince the elected officials that it is in their interest for the next election—the next time they go and face the voters—to do what's right, Bloomberg said. “The issue is how do you get the vast bulk of the people to man the barricades? A very small group is already doing it and we have to change that dynamic.”
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