They work harder: Bloomberg’s bottom-line immigration reform advocacy

Miller, Bloomberg, Salinas and Lopez. (Dana Rubinstein)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Latin American business mogul Ricardo Salinas agree: immigrants work harder than native-born Americans.

“I don’t think there’s any question, it’s the immigrants who are willing to work harder, on average,” said the mayor of New York City, whose population is more than a third foreign-born. “Plenty of native-born Americans, tenth-generation here, that work very hard. So I’m not dissing everybody. But on balance, it’s no question that people come here, and they come here because they want to live the great American dream, and they don’t think it’s just going to be given to them or that they deserve it. They come with the ethic of wanting to work for it.”

“The immigrants are usually the most motivated, the most hardworking, the most risk-taking,” Salinas, a Mexican billionaire, agreed a few minutes later. “They’re the best of the human capital, by definition, because they’re the first movers.”

Bloomberg, in a pinstriped suit and tassled loafers and Salinas, also in businessman dress, were speaking on a panel about immigration and the economy hosted by the New York Forum, an organization whose mission is to faciliate discussion of issues affecting the economy. It was founded by Richard Attias, whose website describes him as “the world's top community builder for the ‘thinking elite.’”

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

Washington Post columnist Matt Miller moderated the panel, which also featured Danny Lopez, the British Consul-General in New York.

The panel was scheduled to coincide with the release of a report called “Not coming to America: Why the U.S. is falling behind in the global race for talent,” underwritten by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a bipartisan coalition of mayors and business leaders that supports immigration reform and is co-chaired by Bloomberg, and the Partnership for New York City, New York City's principle business lobby.

The report argues that immigrants at all education levels are a vital component of a struggling American economy whose workforce is shrinking and ever less suited to meet changing demands.

In Singapore, 33.9 percent of undergraduates study engineering, compared to 31.2 percent in China, 6.1 percent in the U.K. and a mere 4.4 percent here.

The United States remains the top destination for immigrants, who comprise 26 percent of U.S.-based Nobel Prize recipients and, together with their children, have founded more than 40 percent of the country’s Fortune 500 companies.

Republican governor Haley Barbour credited "Spanish speakers" with rebuilding Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

But while other countries are fast updating their immigration laws to reflect the needs of today’s more globalized economy, U.S. law lags, and in Washington, efforts to reform immigration law remain basically dead.

The United States allocates only 7 percent of its permanent residency visas in response to economic needs, in contrast to 25 percent in Canada and 42 percent in Australia.

The cap on H-1B visas for American professionals is set at 65,000 which the report argues is way too low.

One Canadian law firm has even gone so far as to advertise on the basis of the inadequacy of the H-1B.

“Currently on an H1B Visa or otherwise working or studying in the United States?” Canadian Immigration Lawyers asks, on its website. “You may be able to qualify for fast-track Canadian immigration under one of the Provincial Nomination Programs (PNP) or under the Federal Skilled Worker category of Canadian immigration.”

And the U.S. has no program dedicated to helping immigrant students who have attained graduate degrees here remain in the U.S., while China and Israel have programs aimed at luring their expat scientists home.

Bloomberg and Salinas attributed the morass of American immigration law to a lack of political leadership.

“There are no heroes here,” said the mayor, who frequently talks about the need for immigration reform. “You show me anybody that’s really stood up. At one point I think it was Huckabee, Bush and McCain, three unlikely people who stood up, this was about five years ago, for immigration.”

Since then, noted the mayor, “Bush is no longer in office, and McCain’s sort of gone back and forth, and I don’t know what Huckabee’s doing these days.”

Obama, he added, hasn’t done much better.

“In fact today, with a liberal Democratic administration in Pennsylvania Avenue, we are deporting more people than the last four or five presidents put together,” he said.

Miller, the moderator, pointed out that during the Republican primary debates, Texas governor Rick Perry and Romney tried to out-do each other in their tough-on-immigration stances.

“Yeah, and I would have thought Romney would be very pro-immigration given his religion, that really does reach out around the world,” said Bloomberg, who abhors partisanship and considers himself a centrist.

“No party is willing to compromise or say that the other party is in agreement with them,” the mayor said. “And Dick Lugar is a perfect example. This country was really hurt by—no matter what you think about Lugar’s politics—the message there was, ‘If you cross the aisle, if you come to an agreement on anything, we’re gonna get you.'”

Bloomberg argued that all of these politics reflect a number of serious misapprehensions about immigrants and about American exceptionalism.

“We have this, 'We are better than everybody else' attitude that has every day lost more and more credibility,” he said.

He added, “We have this myth that they use services and don’t pay for them. The truth of the matter is most immigrants are young, so they don’t use medical services ... They don’t use schools, because most of them just go and send remittances back. They don’t bring their kids.

“They all pay taxes, or virtually all, I think it’s 75 perecent of all undocumented in this country pay taxes ... They have very low crime rate, because they’re scared to death of the INS, so they don’t. They don’t use public housing.”

Bloomberg also once again resurrected his argument that immigrants are the solution for what ails post-industrial midwestern cities, like Detroit.

When the mayor made that argument last year, Detroit mayor Dave Bing wondered what Bloomberg “was on.”

“We can't provide jobs for the people here,” Bing said.

“I used the example of a midwest city, I won’t make that mistake again of mentioning their name, because the mayor blasted me and he said, 'Oh Bloomberg doesn’t understand, there are no jobs here for immigrants,'” said Bloomberg today. “Yes, there are no jobs and never gonna have any jobs unless they bring in immigrants. But other countries are starting to do that now, give visas for specific locations to try to get in people who will work hard, who will force the schools to get better, who will buy these empty houses and fix them up and create new jobs.”

By way of example, the mayor pointed to New York City’s relative economic success.

“In New York City, we have a much more diverse population than any other city in America, lots of immigrants here. I don’t know that for sure it’s the reason, but there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence that immigrants really help your economy. For example, from the bottom of the recession, New York City has recovered 190 percent of the jobs we lost. Nationwide, we’ve only recovered 40 percent of the jobs we’ve lost. Why? Because people come here, they get off the boat, if you will, and they start businesses and they take jobs. They’ll take two jobs. “