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Published:July 17th, 2006 15:15 EST
Immigration, America and Citizenship

Immigration, America and Citizenship

By Liz Holman

The United States must establish a new immigration policy that can accommodate the realities of the 21st century, U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez said in his July 12, 2006 testimony before the U.S. Senate's Judiciary Committee.

He said President Bush's proposals for comprehensive immigration reforms can help protect U.S. borders while also meeting the needs of a growing economy.

"I believe immigration is the domestic social issue of our time and a key to our future economic health."

The president's proposal is a carefully considered approach that aims to enhance border security while ensuring an adequate work force for American businesses.

"The reality is that our economy is growing faster than [that of] any other large, industrialized nation," Gutierrez said. "Our unemployment rate is below the average of the past four decades."

Although a low unemployment rate is usually considered good news, it can pose unexpected challenges for business owners, he said.

"Our economy -- like other major industrial economies -- faces the challenge of an aging and increasingly educated workforce," Gutierrez said. "The result is that we have jobs that American citizens either aren't willing or aren't available to do. I continually hear from industries that they are having difficulty finding workers."

He recounted a recent conversation with a restaurant executive who said that when the unemployment rate is low, it's difficult to staff restaurants. The service industry is particularly vulnerable to this problem.

Gutierrez said that a majority of Americans now favor Bush's approach to the immigration problem as opposed to only punishing illegal immigration.

"Two-thirds of American voters say they support bills that include a temporary worker program or path to citizenship rather than one that focuses solely on border security," he said.

"Immigrants aren't crossing our borders to look for a handout. They're seeking jobs that are available."

Gutierrez said the president's proposed guest-worker program would benefit U.S. businesses as well as hardworking immigrants.

He said that it is essential to secure our borders, but comprehensive immigration reforms would make it legal for workers to enter the U.S. for a limited time, fill labor needs and take pressure off of U.S. borders.

He added that advanced technology -- biometric cards that confirm a person's identity being one such technology -- can make it easier to ensure work site enforcement of the new rules.

Gutierrez also addressed what to do about the 12 million people who are currently residing illegally in the U.S.

"The president has said that deporting 12 million individuals wouldn't be wise, practical or humane," he said.

Bush is advocating a "hard-earned path to legalization," requiring certain conditions to be met.

Gutierrez said that the president believes that "we are a nation of immigrants, and we must honor the great tradition of the melting pot. It is a false choice to think the immigration debate is a battle between America being a welcoming society and being a nation of laws. We can be both, because we are both."

He added that while today many countries face declining populations, "we can avoid this problem and build a vibrant, diverse country in part through immigration."