President Obama has been giving Silicon Valley a lot of love and affection lately. He schmoozed Facebook employees at their headquarters in April, and on Wednesday, he held a Twitter town hall at the White House.
The president has been saying exactly what Silicon Valley wants to hear: He understands that America’s competitiveness depends on attracting the world’s best and brightest, that we should provide permanent residence visas to foreign students who graduate with U.S. technology degrees, and that we need to make it easy for the foreign-born to create start-ups in the United States.
But, sadly, the president has failed to back up his words with actions. At the Twitter Town Hall, one tweeter asked if the president would support a start-up visa program.
Obama skirted the issue, lamenting that the United States is sending away talented entrepreneurs who could start new companies here. He acknowledged that our immigration system is deeply flawed. But he didn’t say outright that he would support a start-up visa program; nor did he suggest other remedies. All said was that America needs “comprehensive immigration reform."
In other words, we fix all the problems with our immigration system, or we don't fix any at all. This means we have to deal with the issues of unskilled illegal immigrants and skilled legal immigrants simultaneously.
The nation is so polarized on the subject of illegal immigration, that logic and common sense do not prevail in the debate. As I’ve said before, either you’re a patriot or a traitor. Take, for example, the DREAM Act, which would allow illegal immigrant students who were brought to the U.S. as children to gain citizenship through education or military service. The bill was first introduced with bipartisan support in 2001. But, in 2011, Lugar, the last Republican left standing in support of the measure, backed out. In this political climate, there is little hope that we will come to an agreement.
But the majority of Americans do agree that legal immigration is good for the country. Both conservatives and liberals will readily support legislation that allows foreign-born entrepreneurs to start their innovative technology companies in the United States.
A bipartisan effort to address the issue is underway in Congress. Sens. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) are the sponsors of the Startup Visa Act.
In an interview Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” conservative pundit George Will came out squarely behind the idea that every advanced science and technology degree from a U.S. college granted to a non-citizen should have “a green card stapled to it"—just as the president has said. So there is strong agreement on some fronts.
We should be concerned about the plight of the estimated 11 million undocumented workers who are already in the country. This is a humanitarian issue. But our competitiveness depends on solving the problems of skilled immigrants, and solving them fast. If we wait another five years to fix the immigration system, the undocumented, unskilled workers will still be here. But the engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs will be long gone.