Media titan Rupert Murdoch and New York City’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, came to Boston Tuesday evening to help press their case for making it easier for immigrants to legally come to the United States and to establish a path for existing illegal immigrants to gain legal residency.
Murdoch, chief executive of News Corp., and Bloomberg, a billionaire who started his own company before going into politics, are two of the cochairs of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a national coalition of mayors and business leaders lobbying for “sensible immigration reform.”
In a panel discussion, Murdoch argued that there is a desperate need for engineers and other skilled professionals that the United States can’t supply internally. And he said he was appalled that the United States doesn’t automatically grant work visas to people who graduate from US universities with advanced degrees, instead of forcing them to apply for restrictive H-1B visas.
“I think we are in a crisis in this country,” said Murdoch, who was born in Australia and later became an American citizen.
Bloomberg said there is widespread agreement that the United States needs to change the rules to help skilled and seasonal workers come here to fill critical jobs. But he said an agreement in Congress has been blocked so far by resistance from Republicans and Democrats to work together on a compromise on other issues, such as how far to go to reunify families of existing immigrants.
“I don’t see how they come together” without leadership from the president, Bloomberg said.
The discussion, held at a ballroom in the Seaport Hotel in Boston, drew several hundred people. It was hosted by The New England Council, a business group.
Bloomberg held a similar event Tuesday morning in Chicago with William M. Daley, President Obama’s former chief of staff. The Partnership for a New American Economy has a number of local members, including venture capitalist Jeffrey Bussgang of Flybridge Capital Partners, MassMutual chief executive Roger W. Crandall, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston, who also spoke at the event.
“This isn’t a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. This is an American issue,” Menino said. Menino said immigration has made Boston a better city, and pointed out that one in four Bostonians was born outside the United States.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle agree there are problems with the country’s existing immigration policies, but differ on solutions, such as how much emphasis should be placed on border security and enforcement, how easy it should be for new immigrants to enter the United States legally, and what do to with the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants who are in the country.
Advocates for immigrants favor some sort of path to legal residency for existing illegal immigrants — particularly for those who grew up in the United States or lived here for many years — while opponents say that would reward people who broke US laws and worsen the problem.
James Carafano, research director for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said “amnesty doesn’t work” and simply encourages people to flout immigration laws.
The president signed an executive order in June allowing hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to temporarily remain in the United States and work here legally. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney criticized the move, saying the country needs a more comprehensive solution to immigration problems though he didn’t offer many details.
Murdoch and Bloomberg said they were mystified that Romney hasn’t done more to reach out to Latino voters by outlining plans to ease immigration rules and resolve the legal status of immigrants already here.
“Give them a path to citizenship,” Murdoch said. “They pay taxes. They are hard-working people. Why Mitt Romney doesn’t do it, I have no idea because they are naturally Republicans.”
Bloomberg added: “The Republicans walking away from the Latino community is about as dumb a strategy as any political party has ever adopted.”
Many states have also grappled with questions about whether to offer illegal immigrants certain benefits, such as in-state tuition at public universities, and how far to go to enforce federal immigration laws. The Supreme Court recently struck down portions of an Arizona law designed to curb illegal immigration, but upheld a controversial measure allowing police to check a person’s immigration status.
Todd Wallack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.