Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez says an overhaul of immigration law is imperative if the U.S. is going to compete in world markets.
“This is good for the country, it’s good for the economy,” Gutierrez said in an interview today with Tom Keene on Bloomberg Television’s “Surveillance” program. “This is an economic imperative. This is not a political issue.”
He said a lot of Republicans support changes in immigration law and “unless we fix the legal system, we’re always going to have a dysfunctional system.”
The Senate in June passed a measure on a 68-32 vote, with 14 Republicans voting in favor, for the biggest rewrite of U.S. immigration law in a generation.
The legislation has encountered broad opposition from House Republicans, who oppose a provision creating a path to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S. The bill also includes $46.3 billion for better securing the border with Mexico.
Many Republicans in the House say they prefer a piecemeal approach requiring proof that border-security measures are working before lawmakers consider any form of legal status for undocumented immigrants.
House Speaker John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, is delaying consideration of a bill until later this year, a decision that may push any final compromise measure into the 2014 mid-term election season.
Gutierrez, 59, was born in Havana, Cuba, and rose to become chairman of Kellogg Co. (K) before joining the Cabinet of President George W. Bush. He’s joined President Barack Obama, together with business, labor, law enforcement leaders and religious groups, to press for Republican support to revise immigration laws.
“Immigrants are what add the energy and the vitality and the competition to our economy -- it’s always been that way and it’s that way now,” the former commerce secretary said.
He speculated that some Republicans resist changes because of unfounded fear.
“There’s a little bit of xenophobia. There’s a little bit of ‘We don’t know these people, who are they?’” Gutierrez said. “We shouldn’t be afraid. We’ve been assimilating immigrants since we became a nation.”
Gutierrez has organized a super-PAC called Republicans for Immigration Reform. With an eye on the 2014 midterm elections, Republican Party leaders are trying to reconnect with Hispanic voters after Obama captured 71 percent of their vote, helping fuel his second-term victory.
The key issue in favor of revamping immigration law is an economic one, he said.
In agriculture, he said, if there were more immigrant workers, farmers say they’d be able to plant more, create more distribution centers and perhaps export.
“We don’t have enough workers,” he said. “If we get this right, what an advantage we’ll have versus the rest of the world. Think about Japan and Russia and others.”
“Everyone should be understanding that this is economic. Without this we can’t grow.”
Gutierrez is currently vice chairman of the Albright Stonebridge Group, a Washington-based strategic advisory firm that helps companies, associations and foundations navigate commerce, political and regulatory problems in the U.S. and overseas. The firm’s chairman is Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state in the Clinton administration.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican who helped write the Senate’s immigration bill, said yesterday in a Bloomberg interview that the Republican Party “will never win a national election unless we get a larger proportion of the Hispanic vote than we have in the last two elections.”
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