By Jennifer Granholm, POLITICO
If we want true American exceptionalism, let’s fix immigration.
Carlos Gutierrez, on CNN’s “State of the Union” last weekend, had this to say: “If we get this right, the 21st century is ours. If we get it wrong, shame on us.”
He is spot on. Immigration reform will determine our economic future.
First-year business school students know that the key competitive question asked by the smartest CEOs is: “What is our competitive advantage?”
The 2012 election has given us a rare bipartisan chance to nail down an immigration advantage, which is why speedy reform is so important.
In order to keep America competitive — in order to remain “exceptional” — we must leverage the key strand of our national DNA: our global diversity. Our major national competitors are mostly homogeneous. Our diversity is our competitive advantage. Our blend of people and cultures and talent and perspectives can keep us the strongest, the smartest, the most advanced nation on Earth — if we have the right immigration policies.
Although I was brought here from Canada as a tot, I am a bona fide U.S. citizen and have lived here for almost 50 years. Every time I publish some thoughts, at least one clever commenter tells me to “go back to Canada.”
I’m pretty thick-skinned, but that closed mindset is crippling our country. Foreign-born students receive a third of all U.S. college degrees in engineering, and 27 percent of degrees in mathematics, computers and statistics. And lately, those students are taking their American education and skills to other countries and to other economies.
Gutierrez — a private sector guy who knows about brands — makes a crucial point: America can choose to close our borders and send immigrants away, or we can smartly take advantage of our ‘brand” as a country of immigrants. It’s who we are.
If you walk into the most innovative companies in the world, those in Silicon Valley, you will see that the workers, the engineers, the designers and the thought leaders come from everywhere on the planet. That’s their competitive advantage. Instead of a homogeneous design team pumping out bland products, their diverse people with the dynamism of different perspectives and experiences make products that are that much richer, more interesting and more thoughtfully crafted, which means they have a greater likelihood of global success.
Elsewhere, Pakistanis fight against Indians. Sunnis fight against Shiites. Greeks and the Turks. Iranians and Saudis. Israelis and Palestinians. Different cultures fight over ethnic and geographic grudges from the past. Here in America, they come together to build the future.
This is our history, and it is as fundamentally America as baseball and apple pie, and it is what makes us exceptional. Congress has this moment to capture it, bottle it and sell it to the globe.
And when they do, put on your seatbelts folks, and get ready for takeoff. Our immigration reform efforts will show the world whether we are indeed “exceptional.”