It takes courage to speak truth to power. It takes character to speak truth to a vacuum.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg showed character as he took on virtually all of Washington’s political power structure last week over the nation’s decrepit immigration policy. The setting was a panel discussion called “Competing for Talent,” which opened the one-day New York Forum.
The panel, which also included Ricardo Salinas, a Mexican businessman who founded the Mexican conglomerate Grupo Salinas, unveiled a new report on the challenge of attracting and keeping talented immigrants in America. The report, called “Not Coming to America: Why the U.S. Is Falling Behind in the Global Race for Talent,” suggests that the shortage of workers in science, technology, engineering and math-related fields (often called STEM workers) and the shortage of young workers together presage both near- and long-term problems for the country.
Bloomberg laid the bulk of the blame on hyper-partisan national politics. “What’s happened in government is they’re worried so much about getting re-elected, it’s become so partisan, that they just don’t even consider immigration as a real issue,” he said, according to Crain’s New York Business. Bloomberg held both political parties responsible. “The demagoguery against [immigration] has no basis. There are no heroes here. You show me anybody who has stood up.”
The mayor also responded to what he says are common misconceptions regarding the topic, such as the “myth of masses of people coming across the border in the middle of the night.” WNYC reported that he countered the belief that immigrants are a drain on public services. Instead, he said, “Roughly every high tech person you bring in creates two or three jobs at lower wage salaries. Every migrant worker you bring in creates two or three jobs at higher salaries. It’s fascinating - from both ends, it really does help the middle.”
Bloomberg is absolutely right. As I have often argued in this space, our current immigration policy is pointless and self-defeating. Bloomberg suggested that individual states be allowed to determine their own stances on immigration. That does not strike me as a useful answer, but it’s not hard to see why Bloomberg might prefer this sort of federalism to Washington’s indifference. Different concerns, but similar frustrations, have underpinned state-level efforts against illegal immigrants in Arizona and elsewhere.
New Yorkers have a reputation for being blunt, even if politicians generally do not. Bloomberg was very frank in saying, “Government has walked away from what made this country great and what business and education needs.” The new report offers six recommendations to help reform the U.S. system. Those recommendations, which focus on keeping American-trained skilled workers from leaving and on allowing business and government to recruit needed workers overseas, are debatable; that our current system is dysfunctional, from both an economic and a human perspective, is not.
But there is no sign that policy makers are ready to try to solve this problem. Too many just want to build bigger border fences and springboard themselves to re-election from a platform of being “tough” on immigration issues. In the long run, this approach serves no one.
It may not do any good any time soon, but the truth is important, no matter where it’s spoken. Bloomberg was right to censure our unproductive and messy immigration system and, more especially, the politicians on both sides of the aisle who refuse to reform it.