Governor says scientists, engineers should be given work visa priorityBy Howard Fischer
/Capitol Media Services
Foreigners who have degrees in special fields should be automatically entitled to come work in the United States regardless of existing federal visa restrictions, Gov. Janet Napolitano said Tuesday.
In a speech to the National Press Club, the governor said the United States needs scientists and engineers. But she said existing restrictions on work visas for professionals result in these foreign students who have trained at U.S. universities being forced to work elsewhere.
"After a successful background check, I believe that every one of them should have a green card stapled to their diplomas,'' the governor told the audience.
But Napolitano's desire to allow more "temporary workers'' into the United States -- she refuses to use the phrase "guest workers'' -- is not limited to professional fields. She wants to "streamline the visa process'' to ensure that any industry which needs foreign workers can get them.
Napolitano said the current system is "out of whack.''
She said that, on a per capita basis, the Dominican Republic is allocated more visas than Mexico.
"No wonder it takes, on average, more than 10 years to get a legal immigrant visa from Mexico,'' Napolitano said. "Talk about an incentive to cross illegally.''
Napolitano said the United States needs to "widen the legal labor pool and match the evolving labor needs'' of the country.
"By adjusting our visa processes, we can simultaneously end the backlogs and meet the increasing demands of our agricultural, bi and high-tech industries and our economy in a timely fashion,'' she said.
In her 20-minute speech and more than a half hour of questions, Napolitano also said she opposes changing the Constitution t deny automatic U.S. citizenship to children of illegal immigrants. Federal courts have interpreted the Constitution to say that any child born in this country is a citizen, a stance some state and federal legislators hope to overturn.
"I don't believe you take a failed national immigration policy out on children,'' the governor said. "They don't choose where they're going to be born. They don't choose where they're going to be brought.''
She said altering the Constitution would be "very contra to th history of our country.''
She also said the patrols along the border by Minuteman Civil Defense Corps has had a positive impact -- though not necessarily in the group's goal of spotting those entering the country illegally and calling Border Patrol.
"They filled the perceived vacuum in federal law,'' Napolitano said.
"They were kind of an outward manifestation of the public disenchantment with an immigration system that's broken and the real loss of operational control of the border,'' she said, citing 2005 figures that the Border Patrol apprehended 550,000 people trying to enter this country illegally.
"No wonder people are angry and mad, and perceived quite correctly that this was a system that didn't work,'' she said.
"You can say what you want about them,'' the governor continued.
"But they drew public attention to that problem -- and particularly public attention outside Arizona.''
Napolitano also is in at least partial agreement with Arizona legislators who are moving to block the state from complying with the federal Real ID Act. That law requires that states change their procedures for issuing driver licenses to ensure that those who get the documents actually are who they claim they are an are in this country legally.
She cited the $11 billion cost to states -- which is not being picked up by the federal government.
"So then you've got to ask, are we getting $11 billion in real improvement in identifying citizens,'' the governor said. "Or is this yet another feel-good piece of legislation at inordinate cost to the states that, in the end, all it's going to do is raise the price of the average driver's license for the average American.''
Napolitano also the law would "make every driver's license cler in the United States an immigration document specialist,'' something they are not now trained to do.
The Senate Government Committee last month approved a measure forbidding the state Motor Vehicle Division from complying with the federal law. That legislation, though, has been held up in the Senate Rules Committee.
At the very least, Napolitano said the 2008 deadline for states to comply with the law is "totally unrealistic'' and should b delayed.