Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Immigration unsustainable, former governor tells DU panel

Immigration laws have become ineffective at stopping the flood of unskilled workers into this country while at the same time becoming too effective in choking the flow of needed skilled professionals, speakers told the University of Denver Strategic Issues Program panel March 12.

Ralph Christie, chairman and CEO of Aurora-based Merrick & Co., told the panel that strict legal immigration allotments are keeping his company from hiring qualified engineers and scientists for the growing business, and the U.S. is facing a dangerous gap in skilled professionals.

At the same time, former Gov. Dick Lamm, a DU professor and co-director of DU’s Institute for Public Policy Studies, said immigration—legal and illegal—is burying this country and is unsustainable.

The United States is allowing 138,000 legal immigrants into the country every month, and that doesn’t count illegal immigration, he said. At the same time, the economy is shedding some 600,000 jobs a month.

“Do the numbers. It doesn’t make sense anymore,” he told the panel. “We’ve added more people to our country since 1990 than Canada has people … Will doubling our population help us build a more fair and just nation? I would suggest not.”

Lamm says he’s not against all immigration. Allowing a reasonable number of people in, especially skilled workers such as scientists, makes sense, he said. But allowing unskilled workers in at an unreasonable rate harms not only the immigrants, but also American workers, while burdening social services. And it only benefits a few employers with a supply of cheap labor.

Christie and Debbie Norris, vice president of human resources at Merrick & Co., told the panel the company is forced to seek foreign-born engineers because there is a shortage in this country. And immigration laws make recruiting and retaining such skilled workers difficult, all while American schools are turning out fewer and fewer engineers.

“We have a large supply and demand problem,” he said.

Controlling our borders with fences and troops is impossible, Lamm said. Instead, America needs to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants and must adopt some form of secure, counterfeit-proof identification for all citizens. That, he said, will remove the economic magnet that is drawing immigrants.

Panel leader Jim Griesemer told Lamm he keeps hearing from experts who say good immigration policy is impossible without controlling the borders, then noted, “I haven’t heard a single speaker say we can control the borders … To me, it’s a circle.”

Lamm said political leaders must understand it’s a problem of sustainability, of limited resources and of sheer numbers. Porous borders are not something written into our national fabric.

“It’s not 1900 anymore. This isn’t the America of our grandfathers. We shouldn’t look at this with misty, nostalgic eyes,” he said. “The world has changed … I don’t see a reason for mass immigration anymore.”

The nonpartisan SIP panel is made up of scholars, business leaders and political experts who will expect to hear from all sides of the immigration issue then craft a framework for immigration reform that will be presented in early December.

The next panel meeting is scheduled for March 26, when panelists expect to hear from Peter Weir, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety, and Joe Greene, director of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s Office of Policy and Planning.

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