Keep Doors Open to Immigration

P> "We would lose jobs without our immigrant technologists," wrote T.J. Rodgers, president and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor, in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece.

Pat Buchanan's election chances may be dead. But his hate-tinged rhetoric against immigrants lives on.

As you read these words, an immigration bill heads toward floor debates in Congress. The bill proposes restrictions on legal immigration that would complicate hiring skilled foreign professionals.

The debate over immigration inflames many raw nerves. Buchananites and their ilk take the low route, making scapegoats of immigrants. Industry weighs in for open immigration. They want the best people at the lowest price, even if that means hiring a foreigner over a qualified U.S. citizen. And they tend to mask that aim in highfalutin rhetoric labeling reform as immigrant bashing.

But industry's self-interest does not negate its basic point: A free market system depends on free labor markets. If U.S. industries are to stay in this nation, then they must have access to labor. If that labor does not exist here, then it must be invited in or industry must move out.

WT would add another point to this important debate: Don't separate immigration and education. Like it or not, the United States must keep an open door to immigration because our own educational system has failed.

Rodgers notes that the Sematech consortium of semiconductor companies can't fill 14,000 openings. According to the National Association of Scholars, course requirements at America's leading colleges have plummeted since 1964, while the average number of class days has dropped during the same period from 191 to 156. It would not be far-fetched to draw a connection between these two trends.

Immigration is an essential antidote to a lousy educational system. To bar educated immigrants without improving education is bad policy.

It's also economic hari kari. If we are to have an immigration bill that works, then we should make restrictions on immigration contingent upon proven improvements in the educational system. National educational standards would be a good start.

Rodgers in his op-ed piece complains about the undue cost of maintaining a verification system for immigrant employees. Rodgers and his colleagues should make a deal with Congress: Take away the requirements for such a system only if industry agrees to spend the equivalent amount of money on education. In the meantime, let's keep the doors open.

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