Going from a Consensus to a Coalition
The President’s recent immigration address in El Paso, Texas, may best be described as having been long on rhetoric, but short on specifics.
It was a speech designed to draw lines of demarcation in the political battles of the 2012 cycle, not add substance to the strategy for reform. With the Iowa Caucuses just months away and an opposing field beginning to show signs of firming up, the President went for the political, not necessarily the practical. In fact, the only novel aspect was a declaration that the border was now secure, clearing the way for comprehensive immigration reform.
At best, the President offered words of challenge to Republicans, apparently going off script to say, “… now they’re going to say we need to quadruple the Border Patrol. Or they’ll want a higher fence. Maybe they’ll need a moat. Maybe they want alligators in the moat.” While he paid homage to the vitality immigrants bring to America’s economy, the President missed the mark, failing to use the bully pulpit to press a more specific agenda. He did, however, allude to two proposals in support of retaining aliens educated in the U.S.
We need practical solutions to the immigration conundrum in this country. To find the practical, in reality and politically, it seems to me that looking for areas of consensus – or, at a minimum, strong bipartisan agreement – is the place to start.
The Partnership for a New American Economy, launched last year by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch stands as an example of this approach. The Partnership, of which I’m a Member, now has over 200 members, including leaders of companies that employ over 3.5 million people. It seeks to demonstrate to policymakers the vital role that immigration plays in our economy, identify areas where bipartisan agreement can happen, and promote policy solutions.
Congress, as its members begin to offer bills for consideration, should look to the Partnership for a New American Economy’s method to identify areas impacting the economy where there is bipartisan support. It should decline to demagogue the issues. After listening to our clients, interested trade associations, and reviewing past legislative proposals, I would urge Congress now to not only consider but push through laws addressing the following areas:
- Providing incentives and additional visas to recruit and retain preferred skill sets, including scientific, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers, and particularly fast-tracking advanced degree graduates of U.S. universities to “green cards.”
- Applying unused green card numbers from past years to reduce the backlog of pending green card cases, as seen in bills introduced in past Congresses.
- Creating visas for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and angel investors to promote investment in new and emerging technologies.
- Adopting a modern yet simple employment verification program that is reliable and provides true safe harbor for employers. Such a system would have to use biometric indicators to prevent fraud and identity theft. The key is to shift the burden of determining employment eligibility away from employers and back to the government.
Moving forward with these politically attainable proposals would demonstrate true leadership and elevate substance over rhetoric.