Commerce Secretary Supports Comprehensive Immigration Reform

The following is a strong statement from Commerce Secretary Gutierrez, from a June 9, 2008, State of Immigration Address,  in favor of comprehensive immigration reform and acknowledging the deleterious dearth of immigrant, H-1B and H-2A and H-2B visa numbers, which are critical to allowing our economy to remain competitive:

“I would like to talk a little about the business environment and what is happening in the business community as it refers to immigration and the need for immigration reform. There’s a lot of discussion about the burden of immigration but there is not enough conversation about the risk of not having enough immigrants, especially a risk to our economy and a risk to our competitive position as it relates to the rest of the world.

So as you can see from the Secretary’s comments immigration reform remains a top priority for the Bush Administration. In the absence of legislation from Congress we’ve been proactively tackling this issue head on with as many administrative actions as possible.

The American people want and deserve a thoughtful, broad-based approach to immigration that focuses on the security and the economic prosperity of our country. Last August, Secretary Chertoff and I announced a package of administrative reforms that sharpened existing tools to protect our citizens and make our immigration system more workable.

We’ve made strides in securing our border. In fact, we’ve made great strides in securing our borders and enforcing existing immigration laws. But we cannot neglect our economic security; and that’s exactly what we’re doing by not passing comprehensive immigration reform.

At a time when we are facing tough economic challenges, our actions must boost our economy, not hamper it. The reality is that we simply do not have enough workers at both ends of the spectrum and I will repeat that. Our reality as a nation is that we do not have enough workers at both ends of the spectrum. That means for low-skilled, field laborers, all the way to high-skilled technology workers.

For example, for the fifth straight year our H-1B cap was filled at or before the start of the fiscal year. This year the cap was reached in one week. That’s why, as Secretary Chertoff mentioned, we are proposing administrative reforms to our high-skilled programs and to the H-2B non-agriculture temporary worker program.

In addition, we have proposed changes to the H-2A agricultural seasonal worker program. The changes will make the H-2A system more efficient and ensure an orderly and timely flow of legal, foreign workers. They will also protect the rights of all agricultural workers, American and foreign, and make no mistake we need both. We don’t have enough domestic workers to meet the food needs of our country.

The New York Times ran an article with the headline “Shortage of Labor to Cut Food Supply: Farmers Handicapped by Lack of Help Reduce Their Crop Acreage.” That headline and the article ran in 1920. Coincidently that was amidst one of the worst anti-immigration waves that we have ever seen.

Nearly a century later we face similar challenges, but this time, rather than reduce consumption we’ll have to turn to foreign producers or move our farms overseas to feed our families. In fact, that is already happening. A survey by the U.S. Farm Group, Western Growers, indicated American companies now farm more than 45,000 acres of land in Mexico employing 11,000 people.

At a time when we are looking to further secure our food supply to tighten our import safety and to continue to increase and contribute to world supply because of the prices of food, we should not encourage the outsourcing of American agriculture. And what Congress is doing by avoiding to pass comprehensive immigration reform is effectively encouraging the outsourcing of American agriculture.

We know there are employers who have not been able to fill many jobs with American workers. We simply can’t ignore the problem and hope that the issue will go away. A comprehensive solution remains the best and the most long term option. Without it, we’re getting a piecemeal approach, which is something we talked about when we mentioned the fact that comprehensive reform had failed, we talked about the fact that we were going to get a piecemeal approach to a national issue.

For example, in 2007 states enacted 240 immigration laws. That’s up from 84 the year before. Immigration is being debated in every capital in the country. A total of 1,562 immigration bills were introduced last year. This patchwork of laws is untenable in the long term. So we will continue to look at ways to improve existing programs and address all aspects of immigration. Other major economies around the world have realized the need for immigration policy to help them grow their economies, and we are all competing for growth, and everyone is trying to grow their economies and most major economies have realized that they cannot grow without a comprehensive immigration policy.

Our country has a long history of making immigration work. We have more experience than any other nation and it has been one of our greatest advantages, if you look back through our economic history we would not have accomplished what we have accomplished if it were not for the help and the work of immigrants.

We can make immigration an advantage that will last for a century. The issue is not going to go away. Regardless of who is President and regardless of which party is in power, immigration will remain both a tough challenge but also a tremendous opportunity for our country if we get this right, if we approach it in a thoughtful way, and if we are decisive about confronting a problem that will not go away.”

Such remarks ring with reason and practicality.  Let’s hope that such astute understanding will wash over the benighted in Congress.