Carlos Gutierrez Makes the Case for Immigration Reform in Speech to Ripon Society’s Annual Symposium

Gutierrez at 2014 symposium

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a Keynote Address last Friday to a legislative symposium hosted by The Ripon Society, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez called on Republicans to reach agreement on a plan to reform America’s immigration system, arguing that it would not only be good for the nation economically, but good for the GOP politically, as well. 

“An economy grows in two ways,” Gutierrez stated. “You either have more workers, or those workers are more productive. Right now, our working age population is growing at about .5%, which means that we’re not adding enough workers into the workforce. You can’t make that up through productivity. It’s demographic arithmetic. It’s not just that we don’t have enough engineers. We need to look at the whole gambit of industries. We’re not the only country that goes through this. Japan has a terrible problem. I was talking with somebody yesterday from the European Union. They don’t know what to do because their demographics are awful. They are going through a time when they are just anti-immigration. 

“So how is Europe going to grow over the next ten years? Nobody knows. Part of their problem is that immigrants go there because they’ve got these great social benefits. I would hate to see the day when people come here because we’ve got the Affordable Care Act or because we’ve got some wonderful benefits or we have some wonderful entitlements. That is when we turn the corner. And we’re getting close, so we need to have a conservative approach — a Republican approach.” 

Gutierrez served as the President & CEO of the Kellogg Company before his appointment as Commerce Secretary and now serves as Co-Chair of the Albright Stonebridge Group and Chairman of Republicans for Immigration Reform. He made his remarks at The Ripon Society’s 4th Annual Legislative and Communications Directors Symposium on Leadership at Mount Vernon, which was held at the home of our nation’s first President last Friday, March 7th. A group of about 200 senior policy and communications aides attended the day-long event, which also featured presentations by former presidential adviser Ed Gillespie, political prognosticator Charlie Cook, and top members of the House Republican Leadership staff, among others. In his remarks, the former Commerce Secretary – who was born in Cuba and emigrated to the United State when he was six — also discussed the economic contributions immigrants have made to the U.S. economy, and why it’s important for Republicans to get behind reform. 

“For every 100 immigrants that come to the country, we create 40 jobs for American citizens,” he observed. “Twenty-five percent of all startups are done by immigrants. What drives the economy is startups. So the pipeline of future new business is not very robust because people are afraid. There is no certainty. They feel it’s an anti-business climate — why would you create new business? Fifty percent of all new jobs are created by businesses that are less than five years old. New businesses and immigrants are a driver of that. Fifty percent of all new tech startups between 1995 and 2005 are founded by immigrants. One in every four doctors, one in every three computer scientists, one in every three software engineers, one in every four Ph.D.’s — there are a lot of numbers that suggest immigrants make a significant number of contributions.” 

Gutierrez noted that it’s not just in high-skilled areas where immigrants are needed. They are also needed in lower-skilled areas, as well. Unfortunately, he added, the immigration legislation passed last summer by the Senate puts up a roadblock in this regard by establishing too-low quotas for the number of unskilled immigrants who can enter the country to work. 

“The Senate bill has a quota of 112,000 agricultural workers. I talked to the people in agriculture — we need about 700,000 to about 1 million per year … The Senate bill has a quota of 15,000 construction workers every year. We need 15,000 workers in Miami. Where are we going to get the rest? We are giving businesses a choice. You hire illegally, you shut down, or you just don’t grow. It’s just not right. I think we can do better for our businesses. Being in favor of immigration — legal immigration — is good policy. It’s also good politics. 

“The Republicans lost the Hispanic vote — we all know that. But what is not talked about enough is that we lost the Asian-American vote by a wider margin. That’s incredible. It’s unexplainable. And if you look across different groups, we’re losing the immigrant vote. Not because immigrants don’t like our policies — they do. They come here to work and create something they couldn’t do back home. The problem is that they perceive that we don’t like them. I think we’re missing the economic and strategic part of what immigration can do for our economy. We’re also getting played and we’re getting pushed into a corner. I don’t think Republicans are xenophobes. But the game of perception is being won by the other side because we’re not stepping up with a point of view on the whole subject.” 

To that end, Gutierrez had a simple but surprising suggestion for how Republicans can begin to change this perception in immigrant communities: 

“I think we should have community organizers ourselves,” he stated. “We should be going into these communities talking to these people about free enterprise, talking about where you can get a good job, talking to people about taxes and how this whole model works, perhaps doing tutorials on small business, but teaching the opposite values. What I see with these community organizers is they’re signing people up for food stamps. It’s amazing. Now they’re signing people up for the Affordable Care Act. They’re out there doing stuff. We need to be out there doing stuff that presents an alternative, because I think it’s a real crime that these people come over, are put on government assistance, and stay there forever. We need to present an alternative model. We need to do our own community organizing and talk to people about values and the downside of getting hooked on government dependency. We know where that leads.” 

To view Secretary Gutierrez’s Keynote Address to The Ripon Society’s 4th Annual Legislative and Communications Directors Symposium on Leadership at Mount Vernon on March 7th, please click on the link below:

The Ripon Society is a public policy organization that was founded in 1962 and takes its name from the town where the Republican Party was born in 1854 – Ripon, Wisconsin. One of the main goals of The Ripon Society is to promote the ideas and principles that have made America great and contributed to the GOP’s success. These ideas include keeping our nation secure, keeping taxes low and having a federal government that is smaller, smarter and more accountable to the people.