Carlos Gutierrez, chairman of the Republicans for Immigration Reform super PAC, was in town on Monday to tout the virtues of immigration reform and to warn about the consequences of failure. To him, the issue is economic, not political. It is also demographic.
Listen to some of the statistics he dished out during a speech sponsored by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas: In order for the country’s population to stay the same, the fertility rate for child-bearing women needs to average 2.1 children. The current U.S. rate is 1.9, meaning the population is declining. A declining population is a declining society, he said. That is unless people come in from somewhere else.
For every 100 farm workers there are 44 additional jobs waiting for U.S. citizens. One quarter of all U.S. corporations were founded by immigrants. Half of new tech start-ups are started by immigrants. One in four doctors are immigrants, as are one in three computer software engineers, one in five post-secondary degrees, and one in four Ph.D.s.
In the midst of it all, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have quietly updated their immigration laws while U.S. law dates back to the 1950s and 1960s.
“It’s an absolutely necessary thing to do if we are going continue to be the most vibrant economy in the world,” said Gutierrez, who served as secretary of commerce under President George H.W. Bush.
A recently passed Senate bill makes steps in the right direction but could use improvement, he said. One example is hiring caps that are part of the bill. The construction industry can’t hire more than 15,000 workers with temporary visas. In agriculture the cap is 112,000 workers. Both numbers are far too low to reflect what business needs, Guitierrez said.
“So you hire illegally, you don’t build, you don’t grow, you go out of business,” he said.
Nevertheless, Gutierrez remains optimistic that economic realities will trump political expediency. “If we get this right, the 21st century is all about the U.S. and no one is going to catch up,” he said. “If we get this wrong, shame on us.”