For the latest proving ground in the debate over whether to fix our country’s broken immigration system, America should turn its attention tomorrow to Brownsville. In a border city that once housed a military outpost during the Mexican-American War, the potential of immigrants to contribute to the American economy will be on proud display.
Standing just yards from the Texas-Mexico border, I will deliver the commencement address at University of Texas Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, where more than 1,200 graduates will earn their diplomas and degrees, many in disciplines crucial to our national economic recovery.
For a nation still talking about President Obama’s immigration speech two weeks ago in El Paso, the visit will be exhibit B in the border case for why we should harness the economic potential of our greatest national resource: ourselves.
In the graduating class are future doctors, nurses, scientists, entrepreneurs and teachers. More than 75 percent are first-generation immigrants whose parents came to this country to give their children opportunities that they never had. These students have already shown that they intend to “pay it forward” and give back to the community. The nursing students hold immunization clinics; the fine arts pupils go to day care centers to nurture kids’ imaginations; the counseling students run a free community clinic to help their neighbors in need.
As Labor Secretary, it’s my job to help equip our 21st century workforce for the jobs of tomorrow. America needs the most educated workforce in the world to compete in today’s global economy. Over the next five years, nearly 90 percent of new jobs will require more than a high school degree. Unfortunately, we are under-prepared as a nation to fill these positions.
The United States is educating foreign-born workers at a faster rate than any other country. But our broken immigration system often sends our best and brightest back to their native countries to create billion-dollar industries to compete against us.
Think about the lost economic potential this represents. Our country faces a critical shortage of qualified engineers, scientists and mathematicians, which is threatening our ability to keep up with global competitors like China.
Currently, immigrants represent 1 in 4 U.S. scientists. Foreign-born students receive 60 percent of all engineering doctorates awarded at our universities and are three times more likely to file patents that fuel our innovation economy. We should staple green cards to the diplomas of students who receive graduate degrees in areas where we have critical shortages, so they will stay and contribute to our economy over time.
Tomorrow in Brownsville, we will celebrate what is possible when we embrace our diversity. When graduates throw their caps skyward, they will help remind us what we stand to gain from a smarter 21st century immigration system: a faster economic recovery, a stronger workforce, new jobs and a brighter future for the next generation of Americans.