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Gov Speaks at Cato Institute's Event in DC to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of 1965's Immigration Act of 1965

We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.” Myself the son of foreign-born parents, I was struck by the compassion and hope in his voice as he uttered these words, and I was reminded of my own mother’s voice, as she willed my birth in America a reality. As a member of Congress, I actively worked on the Simpson-Mazzoli act, 1986, a landmark immigration bill signed by President Ronald Reagan, which legalized 3 million immigrants.
 
A vocal champion of human rights, the Pope’s message in defense of immigrants is clear. But what the Pope does not mention, and could not know, is the tremendous value those immigrants are to the American economy. Engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty, it reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The American dream was born of opportunity: where other countries could not provide a chance for self-betterment, America did. America took the drive to work and made it a reality, equipping those who wanted it the means for a better tomorrow. Today, let us look at where we have come, and let us acknowledge where we are going. Immigration is one of the most important issues we face as a nation, and how we address that issue will have bearing for years, even decades to come. We celebrate this great land of opportunity with a reflection on her achievements, but with a recognition also of her shortcomings, for we must always strive for a better tomorrow.
 
The 1965 Act modernized U.S. immigration policy, making a radical break from the past.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished the national origins quota system that was American Immigration policy since the 1920s. President John F. Kennedy referred to the quota system as “nearly intolerable” and wanted the United States to get rid of this sorely outdated policy. At the height of the U.S. civil rights movement, the quota system was seen as an embarrassment, as it excluded Asians and Africans from immigrating to the U.S. As a young visionary President, John F. Kennedy wanted America to have a transformational immigration policy that reflected the needs of the changing population of 1960s America.
In 1965, at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed this historic bill into law. Looking out onto the crowd, President Johnson remarked “this bill says simply that from this day forth those wishing to immigrate to America shall be admitted on the basis of their skills and their close relationship to those already here. This is a simple test, and it is a fair test. Those who can contribute most to this country--to its growth, to its strength, to its spirit--will be the first that are admitted to this land.”
Indeed, the Immigration Act of 1965 helped lay the foundation for our long term economic growth by bringing an end to the racial biases that had previously governed U.S. immigration policy, but its creation of the H-1B program helped to ensure American competitiveness for the coming decades. This program granted access to highly skilled, highly specialized engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs, and other professionals who today play a critical role in maintaining the strength of the American economy.
 
When The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was signed into law in concert with the Civil Rights Movement, few people would have imagined that 50 years later we would make history by electing the first African American President of the United States. We’ve witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union; we’ve seen China undertake periods of economic reform and opening up to the world economy; 50 years ago, no one had even heard of the internet, and now it is not only in every home, but in nearly every hand. To think of the change…in just 50 years…and in 50 more? There’s no telling what America can achieve.
 
For all the incredible transformation and growth the United States has done in this time, our immigration laws have not grown alongside it. According to current estimates, there are 10-12 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows. Many of these hardworking individuals toil away at two, three, sometimes even four low-paying jobs – the kinds of jobs that most Americans do not want to do – just to put food on the table for their families. These are not the criminals and rapists that Donald Trump and other candidates would have you believe, but hardworking, honest laborers – ideal Americans – who want nothing more than to pay their taxes, play by the rules, and live the American dream. I certainly don’t take issue with expanding our tax base by 10-12 million people, I feel that it is America’s prerogative to bring these individuals out from behind the shadows to keep our American dream an American reality.
 
It’s important to keep in mind that immigration reform is more than just a social justice issue— it’s an economic imperative. We don't hear enough about immigration reform’s role in creating jobs, generating business growth, and sustaining our economic advantage over other countries.
I, along with Rosario Marin, the first immigrant to serve as Treasurer of the United States, co-chair the American Competitiveness Alliance, a coalition dedicated to advancing immigration policies that support our evolving and modernizing economy. We at the AC Alliance recognize that the globalized economy is here and now — it is time we, as a country, address that reality openly and honestly.
 
Whether or not we like it, our world is drastically changed. Every day, innovations and new discoveries in the information technology sector are revolutionizing not only our nation’s economy, but that of the entire world. The modern IT revolution touches nearly every industry, every business, and every job. You hear almost daily of the expanded Internet of Things and the growing cloud computing infrastructure:
• sensors in our cars communicating with sensors in cement warn of hazardous conditions and adjust driving speeds accordingly;
• implants that monitor nutrient or blood content levels can respond by releasing the appropriate amount of a life-saving hormone or medication;
• even something as simple as sensors for product inventories on store shelves automatically signal to warehouses and distributors when a store is running low on a product.
 
My colleague and Dean of the Tuck School of business, Matthew Slaughter, wrote a white paper report in April of this year, entitled “IT Services, Immigration, and American Economic Strength.” You can read the full white paper report on our website – A C Alliance.org. Matt and his team examined the economic impact of immigration on America’s most dynamic industries, finding that the IT revolution we are undertaking at present could create economic value worth 10 to 30 percent of U.S. GDP – literally trillions of dollars in the form of new jobs, new goods and services, and rising incomes. But he warned, as I am warning now, that we cannot take advantage of this substantial and superior growth with insufficient global talent. We simply cannot remain competitive without access to global talent.
 
America is a country of immigrants. After all, immigrants founded firms such as Google, Intel, and eBay, firms that have created tens of thousands of new jobs in America. Today, almost 80 percent of the full-time graduate students in electrical engineering in the U.S. are international students. In computer science, foreign nationals make up more than 70 percent of the full-time graduate students. I think that bears repeating: four out of five U.S. graduate students in electrical engineering are foreign-born, and nearly three in four in computer science are foreign nationals. That’s pretty incredible. Our leading businesses are crying out for workers with these advanced, technical knowledge and skill sets, and although we are willing to educate foreigners to attain the necessary skills, we are as yet unwilling to do what we must to keep them here. Instead, we send them back home, or to our economic competitors, who welcome them with open arms.
 
Of course, I’m referencing the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965’s H1-B highly skilled worker program, which then, as now, allowed us to grow the U.S. economy through access – access to global talent, access to specialized skills, access to professionals needed by our leading and developing businesses – in order that America maintain a competitive economic advantage.
 
Study after study has found that H-1B visas are a vehicle for job creation and economic growth. The American Enterprise Institute found that for every 100 H-1B workers, an additional 183 jobs are generated for U.S. natives. Unfortunately, that job growth is capped. The arbitrary cap of 65,000 H-1B visas per year was originally set in 1990 – well before anyone could have anticipated the effects of the modernizing economy in creating a boom in jobs requiring advanced technology skills in areas such as cloud computing, mobile and social platforms, and data analytics.
For 2015, over 233,000 applications were submitted for H1-B visas, but because of the cap, more than 60% were rejected. Let’s take a moment to really understand this statistic: if the American Enterprise Institute’s findings about job creation are correct, this would mean that America, in denying visas for workers with the knowledge and skills our nation’s companies need to grow and remain competitive, also denied the creation of more than 270,000 jobs for U.S. citizens – an appalling realization, to be sure.
 
To add insult to injury, latest figures from the Bureau of Labor statistics show that the U.S. is only meeting HALF of annual demand for the STEM jobs – those in science, technology, engineering and math – while many of the highly skilled workers we are educating in U.S. colleges and universities are forced to return to China, Canada, Europe and our others competitors as we fail, year after year, to expand the H-1B program.
 
While American businesses try to adapt and grow amidst economic and technological revolution, our outdated immigration policies are holding us back from our full potential. America’s economic rivals are welcoming the high-skilled, often U.S.-educated workers that the U.S. is unable to keep, owing to our broken and outdated visa policies. I’m not sure the gravity of this situation has really sunk in. Foreign countries are literally poaching our highly-skilled workers, the very H-1B holders we burden and string along, and then ultimately reject when they are not selected in a meritless lottery system. Don’t believe me? (hold up picture) – this is Jason Kenney, then Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, in front of a billboard on highway 101 between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. It reads: “H-1B problems? Pivot to Canada. New Start-Up visa, low taxes.” The facts of this matter are plain – America cannot afford to become an unattractive destination for the global talent pool of the most in-demand workers.
President John F. Kennedy decided to reform the outdated U.S. immigration system to help us attract the best talent to this great nation and spur economic growth. Today, as we celebrate the historic Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, let us look to the future, follow in the footsteps of JFK, and implement common sense reforms to our immigration system that will help America regain a competitive advantage in a truly global economy.
Thank you."

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