'We are in a global battle for capital and labor'

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.
By Elizabeth Gibson

It’s not a revolutionary concept, but the United States needs to start thinking about how immigration can benefit the country, and former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour says that means thinking of immigration in terms of economics.

“We are in a global battle for capital and labor,” he told a crowd of immigration policy makers and legal practitioners today.  “We need good immigration reform. What we’ve got now is terrible. It doesn’t work for anybody.”

The former Republican governor of Mississippi was speaking at the 10thAnnual Immigration Law and Policy Conference at the Georgetown University Law Center. The event, co-sponsored by Georgetown and the Migration Policy Institute, is being webcast, including an address at 2:45 this afternoon by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.  

During Barbour’s address, he said Americans need to stop worrying that immigrants are stealing jobs. He told a story about a chicken processing factory in Mississippi that is almost entirely staffed by Hispanic workers. The government tried to use the factory as a site for a program that puts inmates at work in the community and lets them keep their earnings. The program is usually very popular with inmates, but they never lasted more than a week in the chicken factory before deciding they would literally rather be in prison because the work was so difficult. Barbour said the moral of the story is that immigrants are doing the work that Americans need done but don’t want to do.

As the populations of Western countries age, there is increasingly a need to import labor, and how well the United States competes for that labor will shape the future of the U.S. economy, Barbour said.

Although he was not speaking on behalf of the Bipartisan Policy Center, Barbour co-chairs the think-tank’s immigration task force and said the task force’s new report has the economic statistics to back him up. The Migration Policy Institute's research on immigration and labor also is worth a look.

But what do you think?