U.S. Immigration Policy Risks ‘Suicide,’ Bloomberg Says

The U.S. government’s failure to set a national immigration policy places its economy at risk, creating a barrier to educated and skilled entrepreneurs and entry-level labor, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

“We will not remain a global superpower if we continue to close our doors to people who want to come here to work hard, start businesses and pursue the American dream,” Bloomberg said in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations meeting today in Washington “It’s what I call national suicide -- and that’s not hyperbole.”

Bloomberg, 69, has for years advocated easing visa and citizen requirements for foreign students and entrepreneurs in the U.S., and he favors giving more than 10 million illegal immigrants a chance to become lawful residents. He has also called for fingerprinted Social Security cards.

Last year, he became one of several mayors and business leaders, including News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch and Chief Executive Officer Steven Ballmer of Microsoft Corp., to create the Partnership for a New American Economy. The bipartisan group describes itself on its website as seeking “to raise awareness of the economic benefits of sensible immigration reform.”

A study by the group, which Bloomberg released with his speech, asserts that “a large percentage of Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant -- or by a child of immigrants,” the mayor said. The immigrant-created companies employ 10 million people worldwide and generate $4.2 trillion in revenue a year, he said.

Founded by Immigrants

“American companies founded by immigrants or their children have revenues that are greater than the gross national product of every country in the world outside the United States, except two: China and Japan,” Bloomberg said in his prepared remarks.

“The reason is simple,” he said. “Immigrants are dreamers and risk-takers who are driven to succeed, because they know that in America hard work and talent are rewarded like nowhere else.”

In New York City, with about 8.2 million people, some 40 percent are foreign born, the mayor has said. Last month, the city’s unemployment rate for April fell to 8.6 percent, a 25- month low. The U.S. rate was 9 percent then.

Economic Engine

“Immigrants are why New York City became America’s economic engine,” Bloomberg said. “They are one of the main reasons why we rebounded so strongly from the tough times we faced in the 1970s and 1980s. Neighborhoods that 25 years ago were abandoned are now thriving thanks largely to immigrants.”

Foreign-born students comprise 40 percent of those in U.S. engineering graduate schools, Bloomberg said. When they can’t get a visa, “they go home and go to work for companies that compete with our own. That makes no sense,” he said.

Agricultural and tourist industries that rely on workers “starting at the bottom of the economic ladder” must have access to foreign workers when they can’t fill jobs with Americans, Bloomberg said. “These employers want a legal work force, but our current system makes that extremely difficult,” he said.

Enacting laws to let younger illegal immigrants gain lawful status in the U.S. and ease the visa process for students and entrepreneurs has been described by President Barack Obama as a “moral imperative” for the U.S.

Democratic Push

Democrats in Congress are urging passage of legislation to let some younger illegal immigrants gain legal status. The so- called Dream Act, blocked in the Senate last year, would let people who were brought to the U.S. illegally before age 16 and who remain for at least five years gain legal residency after going to college or serving in the military for at least two years.

Republican opponents, including Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a member of the Judiciary Committee, has said it provides a form of amnesty to many immigrants who have been in the U.S. for decades and may offer a safe harbor to some undocumented immigrants with criminal records.

Bloomberg called the political wrangling over immigration policy ironic in a city where “the street design was drawn up by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French immigrant; the White House was designed by James Hoban, an Irish immigrant; the U.S. Capitol was designed by William Thornton, a British immigrant.”

Bloomberg is founder and majority leader of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Goldman at hgoldman@bloomberg.net or William Selwayt .

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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