As the US debates immigration policy, former President George W. Bush says it should “do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the contribution of immigrants.”

“Immigrants have helped build the country that we’ve become and immigrants can help build a dynamic tomorrow,” Bush said Tuesday as he opened a conference on the benefits of immigration hosted by the George W. Bush Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.

The conference comes as immigration reform is getting renewed attention following an election in which Hispanics overwhelmingly supported Democratic President Barack Obama.

Bush has long been concerned about the issue and had warned the Republican Party as he left office in 2008 not to become “anti-immigrant.”

“America can be a lawful society and a welcoming society at the same time,” Bush said Tuesday.

One of the Bush Institute’s focuses is economic growth, and the conference is part of an institute initiative to find ways for the US to achieve 4 per cent gross domestic product growth. For the most recent quarter, the country’s GDP grew at 2.7 per cent.

Bush said immigrants come with “new skills and new ideas” and “fill a critical gap in the labour market.” Following Bush’s remarks, the conference featured panels with business leaders and economic experts on both the immigrants’ contributions to economic growth and their contributions to businesses.

A handbook on growth and immigration by the institute notes immigrants are more likely than people born in the US to be self-employed and are disproportionately responsible for US international patent applications and for starting successful engineering and technology firms.

Immigration reform is expected to be taken up by the Congress starting next year.

Bush’s own promised overhaul of immigration policy in his second term was defeated in Congress when leading lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, thought provisions such as a guest worker programme amounted to amnesty for illegal immigrants.

James K. Glassman, Executive Director of the Bush Institute, said when the institute was identifying policy areas that could help grow the economy, immigration was one of the points that quickly emerged.

“We need to attract the best and brightest and keep them here,” Glassman said.

(This article was published on December 6, 2012)
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