Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was on hand at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored panel to discuss immigration reform with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez.
Gutierrez, himself an immigrant from Cuba, laid out the argument for why the immigration system is broken.
“Immigrants bring a lot of vibrancy to our economy,” said Gutierrez during the panel, held Friday in Washington, D.C. “The reason we have disfunctionality in our immigration system is because our laws don’t serve the needs of our economy.” He added that he is encouraged by the progress being made by both the Republican and Democrat parties in coming to an agreement.
Bloomberg echoed his thoughts, calling the current immigration system, “national suicide.”
“Company after company and school after school are improving across the Atlantic, and we might find ourselves on the backside of the road one day,” Bloomberg said.
Snyder says he has been making headway on the job issue. He says not only has Michigan’s economy recovered, the state has created a more business friendly environment, leading to the creation of more than 200,000 jobs.
Snyder and Gutierrez both grew up in Michigan, and the governor reiterated his roots, growing up outside the Kellogg plant in Battle Creek where, coincidentally, the former secretary of commerce worked.
“Every time we saw corn flakes being made, we knew people had jobs,” Snyder said.
Snyder blames the current immigration system on a “broken political culture” that has too much divisiveness and fighting, and he wants to see the country act as if they are “one big family.
“It is becoming about politics, and we built our country on the very principles we want to achieve,” Snyder said.
In response, Snyder has created an Office of New Americans in Michigan, which will help his plan to issue 50,000 visas to new, educated immigrants. In particular, he is aiming for 5,000 employment-based visas in the first year for Detroit.
During the panel, Bloomberg explained that only 40 percent of New York City’s population was born in the United States. “…And when the average increase in the poverty rate of 25 biggest cities rose to 34 percent, New York City remained unchanged,” he said, adding that immigration benefits everyone from the poor to the wealthy.
Afterwards, Snyder said that Detroit is probably just like the rest of the country for the most part, but he wants Michigan to be an environment for success for new immigrants.
Gutierrez then brought up the general notion about immigrants not assimilating and splintering American societal culture. Bloomberg refuted that notion, and said statistics don’t show that.
“Someone (an immigrant) who comes here creates about two jobs each,” Bloomberg said. Bloomberg said there weren’t enough workers to fill the demand for agricultural workers, and Snyder pointed out that Michigan struggled last fall with record apple production and harvesting for that same reason.
Though the current political climate remains stagnant, Gutierrez remained hopeful about the reform effort — especially because of his two colleagues.
“People who are anti-immigrant eventually get swept over by history,” Gutierrez said. “Don’t stop…. you are on the right side of history.”