EAST PALO ALTO -- A pro-immigration policy will ensure the nation's future prosperity, better national security and a more youthful labor force that will help pay for retirement and medical programs for decades to come, a star-studded group said here Thursday.
The Bipartisan Policy Center, helmed by an immigration task force featuring the unlikely pairing of Republican Condoleezza Rice and Democrat Henry Cisneros, released an analysis on demographics that painted immigration reform as a significant boost to the United States, both on the home front and internationally.
"A healthier demographic outlook will help the United States sustain economic growth, improve its fiscal outlook and maintain its strategic position in global affairs," read the report, called "Immigration: America's Demographic Edge." Further, the paper states: Immigrants keep the U.S. population and labor force growing, which promotes economic vitality because "without more workers to produce goods and services, economic growth becomes significantly more challenging."
Former U.S. Secretary of State Rice, a co-chair of the immigration task force, opened the session at the Four Season's Hotel by saying the U.S. must remain a thriving magnet to immigrants from everywhere.
"We want to stay a place where the world's most ambitious people want to be a part of us," said Rice, who sat on stage beside another co-chair, Cisneros, U.S. secretary of housing and urban development in the Clinton administration. They were joined by Michael Chertoff, U.S. secretary of homeland security in the George W. Bush administration.
The three of them came with a sunny message about America's ability to attract valuable newcomers, saying that immigration has proved to be "history's greatest mobilizer of human potential."
One of the fiercest demographic problems Western nations face are declining fertility rates, which the task force said leads to stagnation or even a shrinkage of populations. In many developed countries, the task force noted, seniors now account for an increasing share of overall populations.
In the coming decades, such trends will strain economic and social systems throughout the world. But, the new report said, in the U.S. there are at least two positive trends: About a million immigrants come here legally each year, and immigrants tend to have children at nearly a 50 percent higher rate than nonimmigrants.
Groups that want to reduce immigration levels dismissed the report.
"The BPC is a business-sponsored think tank. It backs businesses' interest in investing a lot of money toward gaining access to all the foreign-born labor they can get," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "They simply don't want to pay middle-class salaries to American workers."
During a question-and-answer period Thursday, audience members wondered about the Bipartisan Policy Center's position when it comes to the knottier immigration problem of 12 million undocumented people already in the U.S.
"We hope what is going on in Washington is moving toward some kind of solution," Rice said. "We take note of the Senate bill (already passed). We take note of the conversations taking place in the House. We take note of this administration's demonstration of wanting to get something done, and we want to be supportive of those efforts. But we also want to stand back from those conversations and talk about the important principles that should unite us as Americans as we go forward toward a system that is better for all of us in terms of immigration."
Cisneros, a Mexican-American who grew up in San Antonio, Texas, was more pointed about the role the 7-year-old Bipartisan Policy Center might play in dealing with the illegal-immigration issue.
After the session, he said the task force is already working out policies regarding "the 12 million," including "The Dreamers" -- young people brought to the U.S. as children but who remain undocumented. He said the task force is focused on workers in fields ranging from agriculture to high tech.
"We like being on hand like a SWAT team, to step in and to clarify problems with answers and solutions," Cisneros said about the Bipartisan Policy Center. "We want to say, 'We have experts who can say: 'Have you thought about this for the issue of border security?' Or let them know that we can deal with some technical issue of legalization and help create the over-arching environment that says this is needed, this is important, this is a way to do it responsibly."
One surprising finding of the report was about immigration's positive effects on entitlement programs: "Immigrants contributed an annual net surplus of $13.8 billion to Medicare from 2002 to 2009, and Social Security Administration projections show that immigration reduces long-term actuarial deficits."
The report concluded: "On the international stage, these domestic advantages add up to an important power asset: Countries with larger economies and less-constrained budgets have an easier time projecting economic power and influencing world events.''
Contact David E. Early at (408) 920-5836
Because the issue of immigration policy has become so politically contentious, the range of liberal and conservative participants on the immigration task force of the Bipartisan Policy Center is notable.
Members include: Republican Haley Barbour, former governor of Mississippi; Democrat Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania; Democrat Henry Cisneros, former U.S. secretary of housing and urban Development; Republican Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state; Republican Michael Chertoff, former U.S. secretary of homeland Security; Republican Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union; and Democrat Eliseo Medina, chair of the SEIU Immigration and Latino Civic Engagement Initiative.