Sept. 30 (Bloomberg) -- News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch urged U.S. lawmakers to get behind an overhaul of immigration law that includes a way for undocumented workers to get legal status, saying such a plan would help the economy.
“America is desperately in need of improving our country’s human capital,” Murdoch told a House Judiciary subcommittee today in Washington. “We want to bring an end to the arbitrary immigration and visa quotas that make it impossible to fill the labor and skill needs of our country.”
Murdoch was joined by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of his partners in an effort by business and public officials to build momentum for the first broad rewrite of immigration laws since 1986. Democrats in Congress abandoned efforts to enact an overhaul this year, determining they couldn’t get enough support to overcome delaying tactics by Senate Republican opponents.
Murdoch and other advocates of a revamped immigration law ran into opposition from Republicans on the House subcommittee. Representative Lamar Smith of Texas, the top Republican on the panel, said the U.S. should secure its borders first. He said he worried that allowing more immigrants would harm lower-skilled workers in the U.S.
“Why would we want to put the interests of foreign workers ahead of the economic interests” of Americans, Smith said.
President Barack Obama is seeking a plan that would increase security at the U.S.-Mexico border to stem the flow of illegal immigrants and create a path toward permanent legal residency for some of the 11 million undocumented workers already in the U.S. He also wants to see changes in policies that allow workers to enter the country legally to work for U.S. businesses.
Senator Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, yesterday introduced a comprehensive measure with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.
The proposal largely tracks a plan that Democratic leaders outlined in April that would require border-security benchmarks to be reached before any undocumented immigrants could apply for residency.
Obama said in a statement tonight that the bill “includes important building blocks laid out in the bipartisan framework presented earlier this year addressing the urgent need for reform.”
He called immigration one of the “greatest challenges confronting our nation” and urged lawmakers to come up with a bipartisan solution.
Democrats have 59 votes in the Senate, one shy of the number needed to overcome Republican opposition, and no Republican would agree to support a measure this year.
Bloomberg said today the debate has become too bitter, and he urged lawmakers in both parties to work on a bipartisan solution that embraces the benefits of legal newcomers to the U.S. He and Murdoch have created a Partnership for a New American Economy to push for changes to immigration laws.
Bloomberg said U.S. cities like New York that have had the largest increase in immigrant workers in recent decades have also seen the fastest economic growth. Research shows that immigrants pay more in taxes than they use in benefits, and are twice as likely as native-born Americans to start new companies, he said.
“To keep America competitive in the global marketplace, we must recognize that our economy has changed,” Bloomberg said. “Our immigration policy needs to change with it.”
The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.
Lawmakers are leaving Washington to campaign for elections on Nov. 2 that may put Republicans in charge of one or both of the congressional chambers, which would let the party reshape the immigration debate.
Today, most Republicans on the panel said boosting legal immigration would hurt American workers, and none at the hearing embraced a comprehensive approach to addressing the immigration issue.
House Democrats generally have supported Obama’s push. Representative Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, said a “broad swath” of Americans support such a plan. He urged lawmakers on the panel to “leave demagoguery at the door.”
Representative Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, questioned how Murdoch could support a pathway to legal status for undocumented immigrants while his company’s Fox News Channel highlights the views of commentators who she said advocate a get-tough approach to illegal immigrants.
“I don’t see you promoting in any way with all the power you have to do that,” Waters said.
Murdoch, a native of Australia, said “we do” reflect his personal views, including in the Wall Street Journal, which his company also owns.
The Menendez-Leahy measure includes provisions favored by the Obama administration and opposed by many Republicans. Once border-security benchmarks are met, undocumented immigrants with no criminal background could receive a temporary legal status that could lead to a permanent-resident “green card” after six years. They would have to pay a $1,000 fine, pay taxes and meet other requirements.
Although the Senate doesn’t plan to take action this year on the measure, Menendez had promised to introduce it before the November elections to show the party’s commitment to rewriting immigration law.
The legislation would spell out that the federal government has the authority to set immigration policy. That provision is meant to combat an Arizona law, being challenged in court by the administration, that directs police officers to check the immigration status of anyone believed to be in the U.S. illegally.
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