The following are Mayor Bloomberg’s remarks as prepared for delivery today at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC. Please check against delivery.
“Thank you, Julia, and good afternoon. It’s always nice to come to a city with a baseball team that is below the Mets in the standings.
“But it really is a pleasure to be with you today to discuss one of the most important issues facing our country. Everyone agrees that our broken immigration system is a huge problem, but no one, at least not in Washington, can agree on how to fix it. Today, I’d like to talk about how we can fix it – and how we can do it in a way that both Democrats and Republicans can support.
“It’s ironic that immigration divides this city, because so much of Washington was built by immigrants: The street design was drawn up by Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French immigrant; the White House was designed by James Hoban, an Irish immigrant; the U.S. Capitol was designed by William Thornton, a British immigrant.
“Those buildings are not only monuments to our democracy; they are monuments to the contributions that millions of immigrants have made to America throughout our history. But our country’s greatest national monument – and the American landmark that is most recognized around the world – is not the dome of the capitol, or the pillars of the White House, or the memorials on the National Mall.
“It is the Statue of Liberty.
“Since 1886 – 125 years ago this October – Lady Liberty’s torch has brought light to the darkest corners of the earth, beckoning here to America’s shores all those ‘yearning to breathe free.’ Yet it is not Lady Liberty’s torch, or her crown, or her broken chains that have inspired so much awe: it is her location.
“The power of her symbols lies in the reality of New York City as a gateway – a golden door – to the land of opportunity that is the United States of America. That reality is not just our history. It is our future.
“We would not have become a global superpower without the contributions of immigrants who built the railroads and canals that opened up the west, who invented ground-breaking products that revolutionized global commerce, and who pioneered scientific, engineering, and medical advances that made America the most innovative country in the world.
“But make no mistake: we will not remain a global superpower if we continue to close our doors to people who want to come here to work hard, start businesses, and pursue the American dream. The American dream cannot survive if we keep telling the dreamers to go elsewhere.
“It’s what I call national suicide – and that’s not hyperbole. Every day that we fail to fix our broken immigration laws is a day that we inflict a wound on our economy. Today, we may have turned away the next Albert Einstein or Sergey Brin. Tomorrow, we may turn away the next Levi Strauss or Jerry Yang.
“And we certainly will be turning away many of the people who – like my grandparents, and no doubt many of yours – came to this country with almost nothing except one thing: a desire to work – and work and work and work – to build a better life for themselves and their families.
“This morning, our Partnership for a New American Economy released a report that looks at the impact of immigrants on one major section of the American economy: Fortune 500 companies. The report finds that more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant – or by a child of immigrants. These immigrant-rooted companies employ more than 10 million people worldwide, which is a population larger than 43 states have. And they generate annual revenue of $4.2 trillion.
“To put that number in context, American companies founded by immigrants or their children have revenues that are greater than the Gross National Product of every country in the world outside the United States, except two: China and Japan.
“And those are just the Fortune 500 companies. When you look at the economy as a whole, immigrants and their children have been responsible for creating millions more jobs in all 50 states. The reason is simple: immigrants are dreamers and risk-takers who are driven to succeed, because they know that in America, hard work and talent are rewarded like nowhere else.
“No city has seen the economic power of immigration more clearly than New York. Historically, immigrants are why New York City became America’s economic engine. And in more recent history, they are one of the main reasons why we rebounded so strongly from the tough times we faced in the 1970s and 1980s. Neighborhoods that, 25 years ago were abandoned, are now thriving, thanks largely to immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, China, Russia, Ghana, Korea, India, Pakistan, Poland, Egypt and every other country on the face of the earth.
“There is no greater force for economic revitalization of depressed neighborhoods than an influx of immigrants. And that’s not just true in New York; immigrants have been critical to economic rebounds in small towns and big cities across America.
“Take Perry, Iowa, for instance. A decade ago, it was facing economic stagnation caused by years of population decline. But thanks to an influx of immigrant labor and immigrant entrepreneurs who have opened businesses, the town’s main street is now bustling. The same is true for Lewiston, Maine – a decaying old mill town that came back to life thanks to an influx of immigrants from Africa.
“In Atlanta, which has worked hard to become a magnet for well-educated immigrants, the purchasing power of Latinos and Asians has skyrocketed. Across the country, cities with the largest increase in immigrant workers have experienced the fastest economic growth. And in New York, immigrants are a big reason why we weathered the national recession better than the country as a whole.
“Immigration reform would be an economic engine for the entire country – creating good-paying jobs that will speed up our recovery. Both major political parties and both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue say that restoring economic growth is their top priority. And it must be.
“Yet today, more than three years after our country entered its deepest recession in decades, the single most powerful step that the federal government could take to spur job growth – reforming our broken immigration system – is a casualty of partisan gridlock. Republicans have tended to focus on border control, understandably so. It’s critically important to our national security. Democrats have tended to focus on comprehensive reform, and that is understandable, too.
“It’s critically important that we create a pathway to permanent legal status for the 11 million people here who overstayed their visas or came here illegally. But by this point, unfortunately, it is clear that the two sides have reached a stalemate. They are just talking past each other.
“And that leaves us with two choices: both sides can use the stalemate as a wedge issue to score political points in 2012, or they can come together and adopt immigration reforms that will spur new companies, strengthen existing ones, and help create jobs for the 13.9 million Americans who are unemployed and looking for work.
“As the 2012 election begins to shape up, voters across the country will be looking for the candidate with an economic plan that is achievable – not aspirational. For independent voters especially, immigration reform will be a key test of whether a candidate is willing to put sound economics ahead of election year politics.
“Independent voters will determine the outcome of the next election – just as they did in 2010 and 2008. And while they do not all hold the same position on any given issue, they overwhelmingly want leadership that is pragmatic, not polarizing. They want centrist solutions, not pandering to the special interests. And they want both sides to stop fighting on what they disagree on and start taking action on the areas where they agree and there are actually quite a few areas.
“Leaders in both parties recognize that the current system is a drag on our economy. It was encouraging to see President Obama say recently that increasing opportunities for immigrants to come here is a top priority. And likewise, it was encouraging to see House Republicans put forward a ‘Plan for American Job Creators’ that includes more visas for the workers we need.
“You’d be hard pressed to find a single economist who thinks the status quo is good for our economy. Voters understand that too. A recent survey showed that two-thirds of Americans – and three-quarters of business leaders– recognize that immigrants play an important role in our economy.
“That’s why our Partnership for a New American Economy, which I co-founded last year with Rupert Murdoch, has attracted so many CEOs. And I have to tell you: recruiting new members is one of the easiest pitches I’ve ever made.
“So with all this agreement – why can’t Washington get anything done? The answer is: we can. And today, I’d like to outline five key areas where I believe bi-partisan agreement largely exists in Congress, where action could be taken immediately and where the impact on our economy would be profound.
“First, we must stop providing a first-rate education in science and technology to foreign students – and then forcing them to leave. Students come from around the world to study here – more than 40 percent of our engineering graduate students are foreign-born. They lead ground-breaking research at the very frontiers of science. But many are forced to leave when it becomes clear that a permanent visa will be difficult, if not impossible, to get. So instead of staying here to contribute to our economy, they go home and go to work for companies that compete with our own. That makes no sense.
“We are investing millions of dollars to educate these students at our leading universities, and then giving the economic dividends back to our competitors – for free. The two parties should be able to agree on a policy that allows any university graduate, with an advanced degree in an essential field, to obtain a green card – and a chance to help us grow our economy. We must allow these students to stay here and be part of our future or we will watch our future disappear with them.
“Second, we must stop telling foreign entrepreneurs to build their companies in other countries. America is the best place in the world to start a business. But rather than capitalize on our assets by encouraging innovators to come here and stay, we reject immigrant entrepreneurs – even when they are backed by American investors.
“Immigrants helped found Google, Yahoo, eBay, Intel, and so many more companies. In fact, immigrants helped found one-quarter of all high-tech companies over a 10-year period. And across all industries, they are twice as likely as native-born Americans to start companies. We need more of these dynamic entrepreneurs – and if we do not open our doors to them, they will go elsewhere. And the good-paying jobs they create will go with them.
“A foreign entrepreneur with backing from American investors should be given a temporary visa to start a company in America. If after two or three years, the business has successfully yielded new American jobs, the entrepreneur should be allowed to continue to run his or her business and receive permanent legal status. We are a nation of entrepreneurs because we are a nation of immigrants and in the 21st century, the global economy will revolve more than ever around entrepreneurs.
“Third, we must stop telling American companies that they cannot hire the high-skilled workers they need. By making it difficult for them to obtain temporary and permanent visas for high-skilled workers, the federal government is slowing growth and – worse – promoting the outsourcing of American jobs.
“Make no mistake: if companies cannot hire the workers they need here, they will move operations out of the country. Just look at Microsoft’s decision to open a research park in Vancouver. Many high-tech companies are also opening offices there – for one reason: they can’t get the high-skilled workers they need into the United States. We not only lose those jobs – we lose their spending and taxes. Again, this makes no sense. We are stabbing ourselves in the back even as our economy is in critical condition.
“The ability to attract and keep high-skilled labor is essential for American companies competing on the world market. That’s true not only for high-tech industries, but also for banks, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and even manufacturing firms with large research and development operations, like Boeing and Caterpillar. But right now, the cap on H1-B visas and green cards is much too low, and caps on green cards are set by country. So Iceland gets the same number of visas as India. That may be fair to each country, but it’s not fair to American businesses. We should end these arbitrary limits and end the cap on the high-skill H1-B visas. Let the market decide. It’s basic free-market economics – and both parties ought to be able to get behind it.
“Fourth, we must ensure that major industries, such as agriculture and tourism, that rely on those workers just starting up the economic ladder have access to foreign workers when they cannot fill the jobs with American workers. These employers want a legal work force, but our current system makes that extremely difficult. Farmers have to go through multiple levels of approvals to do basic hiring, and in Georgia, where they have cracked down on illegal farm-workers, farm owners are experiencing severe labor shortages. That’s driving up their costs and leaving crops un-harvested. At a time when food prices are rising, this is the last thing American consumers – and farmers – need.
“Fifth, and finally, we must begin allocating more green cards based on economic needs. Right now, only about 15 percent of all green cards go to employees and their dependents, while the rest go largely to immigrants’ families and relatives. In Canada, those numbers are reversed. Last year, two-thirds of immigrants to Canada came based on economic reasons, and only 21 percent came based on family reasons. America must always honor our tradition of welcoming the tired and tempest-tossed. We are a land of opportunity because we have always been a country of compassion. But as we continue to be a place of refuge and reunion, we must open our doors more widely to the talented and hardworking people who can make critical contributions to our economic growth and prosperity. That means raising green card limits based on our economic needs – so we allow the people who can most help our country to come here to work, invest, and start businesses.
“The five areas I’ve outlined today present real opportunities for bi-partisan agreement, and they are steps that can be taken now to help create jobs and drive prosperity across the country: more green cards for university graduates; more visas for entrepreneurs; more visas for high-skilled workers; more visas for agricultural and other seasonal laborers; and more visas that are distributed based on our economic needs.
“In the coming weeks, Congress is expected to consider the Dream Act and e-Verify. But pass or fail, the time has come to re-focus the immigration debate around the most pressing issue facing the country: creating jobs. The conversation here in Washington on immigration must be about more than fences and fingerprints; it must be about what kind of country we want America to be.
“Do we want to continue to be a land of opportunity for all? And the world’s greatest economic power? And the nation with the most high-paying jobs and the best quality of life? Or do we want to send more jobs overseas and watch other countries rival our economic strength, and leave our children a country in decline?
“America has always been on a forward march because we have always welcomed more people to march with us. But now, the biggest threat to our future lies in denying our past. In the New York harbor, Lady Liberty is stepping forward, and here in her 125th year, so must we.
“We must honor the values that made America great. We must embrace the new realities of the 21st century economy. And we must hold our elected officials accountable for delivering results, not speeches; for seeking consensus, not controversy; for promoting economic growth, not political advantage.
“Maybe more than any other major issue in Washington today, there is an opportunity for a bi-partisan breakthrough on immigration. If both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue seize it – and it’s up us to push them – we can help get our economy moving again, and the best days for our country – and for the dreamers who define it – will be still to come. Thank you.”