Former Bush official in Mpls to make economic case for immigration reform

Former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez told a gathering of business and immigration leaders today that if the United States doesn’t welcome talent from abroad by changing its immigration policies, its global competitors will.

Minneapolis was picked as one of several “immigrant gateway cities” across the United States for visits by Gutiérrez, chairman of Republicans for Immigration Reform, to make the bipartisan case for comprehensive immigration reform.

Gutiérrez, who emigrated from Cuba in 1960, was CEO of the Kellogg Corporation before serving as Commerce Secretary from 2005 to 2009 under President George W. Bush.

Appearing at a lunchtime event at The Depot in Minneapolis with Mayor R.T. Rybak and other political, business and immigration leaders, Gutiérrez said demographics drive the need for immigration reform. The U.S. population is aging, and the birthrate is below replacement rate. He made the case that the United States needs the muscle and brainpower immigrants bring.

Former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutiérrez speaking to a crowd in Minneapolis Monday, July 15, 2013. MPR Photo/Silvia Foster-Frau

“There are places where we cannot find enough skilled workers or workers for their jobs: agriculture, construction, hospitality, health care, logistics and transportation,” Gutiérrez told the crowd.

Gutiérrez gave a rapid-fire list of contributions immigrants have made to the U.S. economy:

  • One fourth of all major U.S. corporations were founded by an immigrant
  • One half of new tech start-ups have an immigrant founder
  • One fourth of  doctors are immigrants
  • Two fifths of medical students are immigrants
  • One third of computer software engineers are immigrants
  • One fourth of Ph.D.s are  immigrants

As cautionary tales, Gutiérrez pointed to Japan, where the population is aging and to Russia, where the economy is declining. But he also gave examples of countries using immigration to beef up their workforces.

“There are some countries that are eating our lunch, that are doing policies that are right for the 21st century for immigration such as Canada, such as Australia, such as New Zealand,” he said. “They very quietly updated their laws. Our laws still date back to the ’50s and ’60s.”

The former Bush administration official’s visit comes as Congress wrestles with immigration reform. The Senate has passed a bill  Gutiérrez called “common sense.” He said the bill, though not perfect, is “a heck of a lot better than the status quo.” Republican leaders in the House of Representatives say they will not vote on the Senate bill, but rather take up the components separately.

The Republican Party of Minnesota referred MPR News to U.S. Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann’s office for reaction to Gutiérrez’s event.

On July 9, Bachmann joined her colleagues on the House floor to criticize the Senate version of the bill.

Members of Congress will be back in their districts next month, and may hear from constituents on the issue.