Skilled workforce needs immigration reform

By Mike Clark

America is a nation of immigrants. We are also a nation of laws.

The estimated 11 million immigrants who are here outside the legal immigration system is a challenge to everything this nation stands for.

Yes, many of these immigrants do hard work that is needed by employers.

Yes, the Obama administration has deported record numbers of illegal immigrants.

Yet the fact remains, the nation must deal with this historic wave of immigration that hasn’t been seen at this level since the dawn of the 20th century.

Because the situation is complex and because it affects many lives, it has been difficult to arrive at a solution.

Yet many conservatives have offered realistic plans, especially those in states with large numbers of undocumented residents.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush wrote a book with Clint Bolick titled ‘Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution.’

“We believe that our nation’s immigration policy is a disaster but one that can be successfully fixed through a combination of political leadership, bipartisan consensus and – as with most difficult issues facing our nation – recourse to basic American values,” Bush wrote.

Solutions have been undermined by ideological rancor, demagoguery and political cowardice, he writes.

Bush insists that borders must be secured before any reforms are considered. Whether that includes a wall, a fence or other means depends largely on the topography.

Public opinion surveys show that about 2 in 3 Americans support a process by which immigrants can obtain lawful status so long as they speak English, pass background checks and pay restitution.

Under the Bush plan, once these requirements are completed, immigrants would have to complete community service and then would become eligible to earn permanent legal residency, but this would not lead to citizenship

Hidden within this controversy is the fact that the current immigration system is broken with not enough attention given to skilled immigrants who offer more value and will create jobs and provide essential services.

In 1970, work-based immigration accounted for 70 percent of all newcomers to the United States. In recent years that has flipped so that about 70 percent of immigrants are family members.

There are too few slots for immigrants with high skills, especially graduates of America’s world class universities.

Mitt Romney had the right idea when he said that all immigrant college graduates in so-called STEM fields – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math – ought to have Green Cards attached to their diplomas.

Too often, these talented immigrants must leave the country. As a result, Canada is advertising for college grads in Silicon Valley and Chile has set up an enclave for talented American college graduates.

Even though Canada has 10 percent of the population of the U.S., it issues more employment-based visas than the U.S.

Foreign entrepreneurs can obtain a visa in Chile in a few weeks. As a result, 500 new companies were started there in just two years.

“Many of those who flocked to Chilecon Valley, as it has been dubbed, would rather have gone to America, but couldn’t face a decade of immigration humiliation,” reports the ‘Economist.’

What a waste of talent – all because the U.S. immigration system is broken.

Data show that for every 100 foreign-born technology and engineering workers there are 260 jobs created for native-born workers.

Also, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. were started by immigrants or the children of immigrants.

The number of businesses started by native-born Americans declined between 1996 and 2011, but the business start-up rate soared by 50 percent among immigrants, Bush wrote.

“In a world where these brains have more options than ever in Asia and Europe, we drive them away at our economic peril,” ‘The Wall Street Journal’ noted.


As Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said in ‘Time’ magazine, there is a middle way between mass amnesty and mass roundups, attrition through enforcement.

“Instead of allowing the illegal population to grow every year, we start enforcing the law inside the country,” he said.

A reformed immigration system would include two essential elements of efficiency: certainty and predictability, Bush writes.

Another possibility is a “touchback” system in which an illegal immigrant returns to his home country and re-enters the U.S. under supervision.

America, like most of the developed world, is aging.

Immigrants are needed in the work force but this must be done legally.

America must repair its broken immigration system.

Mike Clark is the editorial page editor of ‘The Florida Times-Union’ in Jacksonville.


Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Author: Emma Lazarus


Decades of neglect of our southern border has led to millions of illegal immigrants. According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform:
Illegal immigration “costs U.S. taxpayers about $113 billion a year at the federal, state and local level. The bulk of the costs – some $84 billion – are absorbed by state and local governments.”
“Education for the children of illegal aliens constitutes the single largest cost to taxpayers, at an annual price tag of nearly $52 billion.”
“At the federal level, about one-third of outlays are matched by tax collections from illegal aliens. At the state and local level, an average of less than 5 percent of the public costs associated with illegal immigration is recouped through taxes collected from illegal aliens.”


Securing the border would cripple the flow of illegal immigrants and drugs flowing over the border, and would reduce the risk to immigrants who might otherwise risk their lives to come to the United States illegally.
Getting ahold of our immigration system will allow the U.S. to admit only immigrants capable of prospering and assimilating.
Ending illegal immigration could help America’s poor the most. Writes ‘The Wall Street Journal’: “Harvard immigration specialist George Borjas finds that during the 1980s and 1990s, low-skilled immigration reduced the wages of U.S. born high-school dropouts by about 10 percent.”

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