The United States needs to bolster, rather than limit, immigration to meet the country’s increasing work force demands, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told a group of business leaders in Phoenix on Wednesday.
The country has reached nearly full employment, and the business sector already is facing worker shortages at every skill level, Thomas Donohue told a receptive audience of about 100 members of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“The United States is producing more jobs than workers, and we need immigrants to balance the equation if we are to remain an economic super power,” he said at the Pointe Hilton Squaw Peak Resort.
Agricultural crops were left to rot in the fields in California last year because of a lack of farm labor, while U.S high-tech firms are building facilities across the border in Canada because of a lack of engineers, he said.
Baby boomers are retiring by the millions, and there isn’t a large enough younger U.S.-born population to replace the jobs left vacant, Donohue said.
Without an influx of new workers, America’s standards of living will be put into jeopardy, he said.
“Some argue that if only businesses would pay workers more, we could hire Americans. But you can’t pay more to workers who don’t exist in the first place,” he said.
The only way for the United States to maintain both its economic competitiveness and its work force is to legalize the status of an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in this country, and to create a “lawful, rational and workable immigration system,” Donohue said.
He outlined a five-point approach:
• Immediately increase the number of visas issued to high-tech, seasonal and agricultural workers.
• Enact national immigration legislation, rather than conflicting piecemeal state and local laws and ordinances.
• Install border security measures and create a reliable employee verification system.
• Assist Mexico and Latin American countries in developing their economies, so their citizens won’t be as compelled to enter the United States illegally.
• Expand legal immigration.
Sun Valley Masonry president Robert Baum, who attended the breakfast meeting, said he supports the U.S. Chamber’s approach. His Phoenix-based company pays workers $23.50 per hour, plus benefits, but it’s nearly impossible to hire U.S.-born workers, he said.
“Nobody wants to mix mud and lay blocks in 110-degree heat,” he said. “The people doing the work are the immigrants.”