CFR Presents

Renewing America

Ideas and initiatives for rebuilding American economic strength.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


Business, Immigration, and Political Dysfunction

by Edward Alden
May 16, 2012

CFR's Edward Alden, former Senator Chuck Hagel, and UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm speak at the Hamilton Project event "U.S. Immigration Policy: The Border Between Reform and the Economy" at the Brookings Institution on May 15, 2012. (Paul Morigi/Paul Morigi Photography) CFR's Edward Alden, former Senator Chuck Hagel, and UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm speak at the Hamilton Project event "U.S. Immigration Policy: The Border Between Reform and the Economy" at the Brookings Institution on May 15, 2012. (Paul Morigi/Paul Morigi Photography)


I had not intended it this way, but this will be my second item in just a week on political dysfunction in Washington.

I participated yesterday in a superb forum on the prospects for immigration reform, hosted by former Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin and organized by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution. The presentation featured an extremely thoughtful presentation by economist Giovanni Peri proposing a pilot project for a scheme to auction visas, which has the potential to regulate more effectively demand and supply for new immigrant workers, and to raise extra revenue from the companies that benefit. It deserves serious attention.

I moderated a panel that featured former Senator Chuck Hagel, National Council of La Raza President Janet Murguia, UNITE HERE President John Wilhelm, and Glenn Hutchins, the co-founder of Silver Lake, a big private equity investor in technology companies. I wanted to come away encouraged. While immigration reform is a poster child for political dysfunction, Wilhelm was optimistic about the political winds gradually shifting in favor of some action. Murguia was far less dismissive than I thought she would be of Senator Marco Rubio’s recent proposal for a DREAM Act that did not provide an automatic path to citizenship for undocumented young people brought here illegally as children. Instead, while criticizing some aspects, she welcomed it as a proposal worthy of discussion.

But what stuck with me were comments made by Glenn Hutchins of Silver Lake, who works closely with the technology companies that are scouring the world for talented engineers. Wilhelm, who played a key role in bringing the union movement around to support immigration reform, commented that one of the reasons immigration has been stuck in Congress is that business has simply not made it a high enough priority. “The business community has got to put its political muscle where its economic interests lie,” he said.

Hutchins response was both witty and inciteful, and worth quoting at length:

“The vast majority of business people have this quaint notion that their role is to run their business and the politicians’ role is to run government. And coming to Washington and being told the reason why government is not running well is because business is not involved is, well….. an interesting set of insights. We do come. The typical business person comes to Washington with the notion that this is something we ought to do. They are then treated sort of like the bright eighth grader on the school trip – what a cute little kid, tap him on the head – ‘don’t you realize that nothing gets done it this town. Just go away and let us wallow in dysfunction, and by the way leave a campaign check at the door.’”

“There is a very broad and growing view in the world of people who get things done,” he continued, “that nothing gets done here, and it’s largely not worth your time. “

If Hutchins is right, and I think he is, there should be alarm bells going off everywhere. The issue is not whether business has enough influence in Washington – compared with any other organized group, it probably has too much. The problem is that even business, with all its political muscle, can’t get Washington to move on whole range of issues. Even where business and unions have come together — in supporting expanded infrastructure investment, for instance — nothing happens.

And the reality is that many U.S. businesses need the United States less and less. Marschall Smith, general counsel at 3M who spoke on an earlier panel, said the company has simply been unable to attract the number of advanced scientists and engineers and skilled technicians it needs in the United States. “The result is we’re being forced to export R&D to China and India, notably, and elsewhere around the world because we can get the scientists there. And of course if the scientists and the labs are there, the low-skilled jobs spring up when we open a factory. We’re an American company being forced overseas when we could do a better and more efficient job in the United States, because we simply can’t get the people.”

It is comforting to hope that political stasis in Washington has few costs because, after all, the private sector has always been the more dynamic part of American society. Comforting, but wrong. Business can now go and be dynamic somewhere else while Washington “wallows in dysfunction.”

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Emma

    So how do you break the stalemate? There is only one thing politicians really care about and that is VOTES, so you have to inform your Congressman that unless he supports immigration reform, infrastructure projects, etc., he cannot count on you votes.

  • Posted by Durant E. James

    While the sentiments of these business leaders may sound noble, they are too often employed in the service of sanctimony.
    Exactly why are they unable to attract the the most talented people in the world? According to the most recent VISA bulletin, there is no backlog at all for EB1 applicants (the most highly skilled category) from any country. They can get a Green Card in a few weeks. While its proponents talk up pie in the sky economic benefits, the immediate effect increasing employment-based immigration will be to In-Source and almost endless supply of low and mid-tech labor to depress American wages and displace American workers.

    Any future discussion on immigration reform should ensure there are enough safeguards in place to determine whether these foreign workers are necessary, and there really are no American workers or graduates who can fill these jobs. A recent investigation by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service found evidence of fraud in over one in five H-1B visa applications.

  • Posted by MJM

    Wait a minute I thought they left because taxes and regulations were too high…

  • Posted by Dave Francis

    In this climate of reducing illegal immigration, one of the most urgent laws to our countries financial survival, is to revisit the Birthright citizenship law. Presently anybody who can steal into this sovereign nation across the northern or southern border with an unborn child and settle here? Then can immediately gain citizenship for the child, opening the door for the whole immediate family and an abundance of special free privileges, This is not oriented to just illegal border crosser’s, but pregnant females who has the price of airline ticket, to impersonate as a visitor or other tourist, so they can take advantage of the welfare system in America. Just this week the Census Bureau announced that children, by racial and ethnic minorities make up more than half the children born in the U.S., capping decades of massive immigration growth that is now slowing. Those white people are not having children, unlike people of other nationalities. Most Americans with a Social Security number cannot meet the expense of a baby, let alone two, three or four or even five, that foreigners seem to conceive, specific in this current economy and especially under the Obama administration, as they unable to afford the expense of delivery or bringing up the child.

    Whereas, migrants and illegal alien pay nothing for any of the prenatal services as it’s all free; Compliments of the unsuspecting taxpayer. Americans who have property, possessions and other assets are liable for hospital services with a $6.000 dollar bill to contend with, while a foreign national walks in, get free treatment for whatever that ails them and walks out free of any payment. Afterwards the U.S. citizen or any legal resident is hounded by debt collectors who have a range of possibilities, to force you to pay the bills, including dragging you to court.

    The majority of thinking Americans have no trouble that is aware of costs for every foreign baby born here? Just ask the most welcoming state. The sanctuary state of California is now carrying the huge burden of $16 billion dollars, because of the strain allotting public assistance to every illegal alien who reaches the state of refuge. Los Angeles Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich website states that an illegal immigration costs $550 million for public safety and nearly $500 million for healthcare, a total cost to County taxpayers that exceeds $1.6 billion dollars a year and doesn’t include the billions more in education. California, the epitome of a Sanctuary states will be the epicenter as millions of absconding aliens arrive there, from less benevolent states? Unfortunately left wing Governor Jerry (moonbeam) Brown is now preaching more taxes, cuts in benefits—when removing the millions of foreign national could save the state from this perfect financial storm.

    The 14th amendment governing citizenship must be changed and although there are at this time over 87 sponsors to (H.R.140) Birthright citizenship bill, there it sits in limbo. Pressure groups are adverse to any amendment to this law and downright lying about the law has detrimental results. That not granting automatic citizenship to anyone and everyone born on U.S. soil would cost taxpayers money? The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) repudiates claims made by a high-immigration group that ending Birthright Citizenship would cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars per year. The argument is the National Foundation for American Policy early this year released a new report alleging that ending Birthright Citizenship would create a new “baby tax” for all U.S. citizens, create a second-class society, decrease income tax revenues for the federal government, and cause children born to illegal aliens to become stateless. Jon Feere, a legal policy analyst for the Center for Immigration Studies, challenges every point set forth by the National Foundation for American Policy’s report and says, “Supporters of the status quo understand that history is not on their side and have resorted to scare tactics to discourage discussion about the subject.”

    The claim that not granting citizenship to children born to illegal aliens would contribute to a growing population of illegal aliens. Feere argues that if immigration laws are enforced and illegal aliens are deported, they won’t give birth to children in the United States. The fact that this happens in the first place has nothing to do with our birthright citizenship law, but rather lack of enforcement at the federal level. Another claim is CLAIM: Newborns born to illegal-alien parents will be stateless. Mr. Feere says this claim from the National Foundation for American Policy is flat-out false. Children born to illegal-alien parents in the United States are citizens of their parents’ home country. A child born to parents from Mexico will receive Mexican citizenship. CLAIM: Children of illegal-alien parents will work in an underground economy. Feere says the United States can prevent illegal-alien children from entering an underground economy in two ways. First, the federal government can enforce immigration laws and deport illegal aliens, and second, Congress can pass an E-Verify law, requiring all employers to use E-Verify and imposing heavy fines on companies that participate in an underground economy.

    Regardless of the lies in Leftist media reports, the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on whether or not children born to illegal-alien parents, or to parents visiting the United States with temporary visas, are entitled to birthright citizenship. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has introduced the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2011 that would:
    Eliminate the practice of Birthright Citizenship by requiring at least one parent of children born in the United States to be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.

    Birthright citizenship for illegal aliens not only encourage illegal immigration and adds to the population growth, it also acts as a “foothold” for illegal-alien family members to remain in the United States and eventually legalize their status.

    You want to change Washington for the better, then find a local TEA PARTY and join? If you trust the doctrines of the U.S. Constitution, then find your place with the TEA PARTY to unseat all the politicians, governors, Mayors and other officials that are still ruining your life through tax and spend. Both political parties have been irresponsible at enforcing the border or interior enforcement. The TEA PARTY will rescind and punish all those responsible for Sanctuary cities, state Dream Acts and denounce any chance of Comprehensive Immigration reform or Amnesty from passing. It’s absolutely unfair when special interest groups including the leaders of religions are inviting illegal nationals to live in the United States, when they stand financially free and clear and leave the American taxpayer to cover all costs.

    Our country has been neglected for years, occupied by illegal immigrants and hordes of criminals. Mitt Romney better not turn on the massive TEA PARTY on this issue, or they will realize he cannot be trusted. Americans haven’t learned that you cannot get something for nothing. Half of this country’s population lives off the other half’s income and that is why our social safety nets are failing. The last realistic chance we have of getting out of our financial mess is to remove the old members of Congress and state capitals, with Tea Party leaders. It happened in Indiana when Senator Richard Lugar was retired, replaced by a Tea Party lawmaker. The TP demands is a urgent need for a unprejudiced tax code with no subsidies, loopholes for corporations, industry or anybody else; an end of bureaucratic tricks to stop drilling on public lands or coastal waters with its massive deposits of oil, natural gas, that can ease our need for foreign imports and begin the Canadian oil pipeline to Texas. Lessen the out-of-control 16 trillion dollar deficit. TP is for a balanced budget amendment and an end to the massive U.S. treasury deficit. Make obsolete the Department of education and return the power to states, communities and parents for better educational performance. Downsize the Environmental Protection Agency and reverse the many of the unnecessary regulations that is crushing entrepreneur and small business opportunities. No more government bail outs for the friends of the Oval Office, no more ‘cronyism’ to Wall Street and an end to massive spending by Obama’s Czars. Introduce a waste and reduction law, which begins the process of shrinking the size of government.

    Want more facts, and then investigate American Patrol and NumbersUSA web sites.

    We must also promote mandatory (E-verify H.R. 2885) that needs to be the policy of this country? If E-Verify is enacted the mass exodus of millions of foreign nationals will begin, as they will be unable to find a job and it will discourage the annual influx of more foreigners into the country. Because of this fiasco of our Immigration laws business owners are directly responsible for the growing amount of $113 Billion dollars in public welfare programs.

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required