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Roberto Ramos

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America's Chief Immigration Officer?

Posted: 12/16/2010 6:15 pm

Harry Reid should have just called Mike Bloomberg to tell it to the Senate straight last week about The DREAM Act. Why? Because the Mayor of New York knows more than most how, without immigrants, his city would hardly even be on the map. As Bloomberg stated quite forcefully last fall when, with Fox News Chairman Rupert Murdoch in tow, he addressed a House Judiciary Committee: "(when it comes to immigration reform) we're urging members of both parties to help us shift the debate away from emotions and towards economics, because (on this issue) the economics couldn't be any clearer."

Among the statistics the Mayor went on to cite: in the past decade immigrants in his town have contributed more than 5% to national GDP growth, and immigrant-owned companies in New York have created 400,000 new American jobs. Currently 40% of New York's 8.4 million people are immigrants, and the vast majority of them pay social security without ever receiving benefits from the program.

The rallying cry has been made often enough: The American story is one created by immigrants from all parts of the world, and from all walks of life. Open borders, entrepreneurial spirit and a nimble, diverse work force are areas where the U.S. has traditionally excelled, and they remain crucial to our ability to maintain a competitive advantage globally. The long-term, positive impact of immigration on the country -- socially, culturally and economically -- has been shown time and time again, and without it we could have fallen long ago into the same cycle as Europe of negative population growth and an aging base.

But as Bloomberg -- a baby-boomer himself -- well knows, the U.S. may now have reached a population tipping point, and that's where basic economics come in. Just consider this: if the 2010 census had been conducted without counting the effects of immigration -- as in those who emigrate and first-generation children born to immigrants -- the population of the United States would for the first time in history have been weighted towards those over 50. When this fact is cast alongside the country's looming deficit, strained Medicare system and nearly bankrupt Social Security, the net effects of an aging population can become downright detrimental to our very fiscal survival.

Additionally, certain "softer" byproducts of immigration -- like imagination, optimism, and a DIY ethic -- can also sustain local pockets of the economy during times, like now, when job creation lags nationally. Bloomberg's aforementioned support of immigration reform includes the DREAM Act, as well as a number of other initiatives like encouraging work exchanges for entrepreneurs from other countries or relaxing visa restrictions for foreign students in American universities who wish to stay and work after graduation. A large chunk of New York's immigrant community are here as students. Spending time and money to educate talent here, only to see that talent snatched up by other countries hungry for their skill sets soon afterwards is a waste of resources, and bad business.

Bloomberg's stance is more than just political posturing. As a smart businessman, he recognizes that the New York immigrant community's work ethic and willingness to take a risk with small business have played a large role in the fact that the recovery started here ahead of other parts of the country. If progress is to continue it will require that this energy is captured and channeled into economic activity at all levels, not just the corner bodega, and not just in New York.

Immigration reform is not about amnesty, and neither is it about giving widespread clemency to all who are in the country illegally or to treating citizenship as a panacea. In the world as it exists today, it is crucial that we not only continue to nurture the talent and innovation immigrants can inject into our businesses, but that we also work to retain workers who are bilingual, bicultural and have a unique understanding of how other parts of the world -- which are rapidly moving ahead -- function. Quite simply, immigration reform is about our country's economic survival.

 
 
 

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