Davos 2023: Immigration tops U.S. officials' agendas at this week's global gathering – Yahoo Finance
Top U.S. policymakers pushing for a comprehensive deal on immigration took their case to Davos this week.
The troubled U.S. system has contributed both to violence at the border with Mexico as well as a worker shortage for businesses across the country.
Many CEOs would like to see more pathways for legal immigration, which they hope could alleviate the current 1.7 job openings for each unemployed person. But remarks Tuesday from the chief negotiators in Congress from both parties largely centered on border security, putting labor concerns on the back burner.
“We’re at a disadvantage because other countries have ways to import immigrant workers into their countries for big tech jobs, for working in restaurants,” Labor Secretary Marty Walsh said during a Yahoo Finance Live appearance. “We don't have that pathway — at least a big enough pathway."
This week's remarks — which took place over 6,000 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border and 4,000 miles from Washington — underlined some of the stark divides that will await negotiators when they return to the U.S. and try to find areas of bipartisan agreement next week.
Walsh, who has noted that the immigration system is one of the biggest threats to the US economy, suggested that the border problems need to be put in context.
“We have to separate the issues,” he said. “Deal with the southern border, but also really think about our economy and immigration.”
A Republican, Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar of Florida, seconded Walsh's point during a panel conversation later in the day alongside three U.S. senators, two influential governors, and a fellow member of the House of Representatives.
“There’s no way that the United States can continue to be what it is, which is the most important power in the world and the number one economy in the world, if we don’t have hands,” Salazar said of increasing the workforce.
But Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) added that “you cannot have an immigration discussion unless you have border security.”
Co-panelist Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) was even more blunt, saying "my advice, take it for what it’s worth, is while we’re waiting [on a larger deal] just secure the dang border."
President Biden himself visited the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this month for the first time since taking office. The Biden administration also recently announced moves to tighten immigration enforcement against Cuban, Haitian and Nicaraguan migrants arriving at the border.
A key figure in the coming talks is Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), who is also in Davos this week.
Sinema released an outline of an immigration plan with Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) in 2022 before the clock ran out on the effort. The senators are vowing to bring the issue back in 2023, with Sinema saying she's helping to build a bipartisan coalition to pass legislation this year with things hinging on border issues.
“The key is to create a system where we get to choose as a nation who we will invite into the country and who we will not,” she said, adding that right now “the cartels are choosing.”
But the challenge of getting anything passed through the GOP-controlled House of Representatives was also evident.
Sinema recalled the bitter fight this year among Republicans to select Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) as House speaker. McCarthy, she said, "had to concede point after point after point to the radical right of the GOP to a point where he is now in an unenviable position” to confront difficult issues in the months ahead like the debt ceiling and possibly immigration.
Many far-right Republicans, who now wield outsized influence after the negotiations with McCarthy, are likely to campaign against any bipartisan immigration deal as "amnesty."
Summing things up, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) noted: “We have a balance we need to strike between having a secure border and being a nation to which people come to seek dignity and redemption and a chance at freedom.”
“That’s a tough balance," he said, "but I’m hopeful that we can achieve that."
Ben Werschkul is Washington correspondent for Yahoo Finance.
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