Company of Immigrants

The American Innovation Economy is struggling to get back to full strength and long-term growth. Continued recovery is essential both to preserve America’s place as a global innovation leader and to drive American job growth. The critical steps that the nation needs to take are to get smart about workforce development and high-skills immigration policy.

At Microsoft one of our key differentiators is our extraordinary workforce. When you look at the technical field, you see a lag in skills necessary to obtain available, high-paying jobs in many communities. Statistics surrounding our education system show that the United States is not graduating enough students – let alone U.S. citizens – to meet the high demand for computer scientists and engineers in this country.

America must boost math and science education, work with educational institutions to encourage students to enroll and graduate with computer science and math degrees, continue to develop workforce training programs, and invest more in research. America also must, as a top priority, pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation. We must find practical solutions that recognize the role that immigrants and immigration play in our national success. And we must open doors to other sources of talent – especially those who have been educated in computer science or computer engineering.

The good news is that young Latino adults in the United States are more likely to be in school or the work force now than their counterparts were in previous generations. In 2007, 86 percent of Hispanics ages 16-25 were taking part in skill-building endeavors, according to an analysis of four decades of Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Microsoft is actually a company of immigrants, more so than most institutions. We have 40,000 employees in the United States. While the overwhelming majority is U.S. workers, our community boasts members from more than 140 other countries, including many Latin American nations. And as a company we’ve long had one of the country’s leading corporate immigration legal groups.

For these reasons, Microsoft has been a leading voice in favor of fair, compassionate and comprehensive immigration reform. We believe that Microsoft has a unique opportunity to get more involved in helping to solve problems surrounding immigration issues. As we began this work, one specific issue came to our attention: every year there are more than 8,000 unaccompanied minors under the age of 18 who have been separated from their families as they go through U.S. immigration proceedings. They need to go before an immigration judge and in many instances, do not come from an English speaking background and do not have a lawyer. And yet across the country every year more than half of these kids, predominantly from Hispanic countries, get no legal representation at all.

I personally was asked to focus on this problem, and to explore what Microsoft could accomplish. Working with the legal community, we first established a groundbreaking program that enabled Washington State to become the first state where every unaccompanied minor going through an immigration proceeding was getting legal representation. We then turned to the challenge of expanding this model. We partnered with other individuals and organizations, including actress and Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie, as well as major law firms and corporate legal departments around the U.S.

Out of that process, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) was born just one year ago. The goal of KIND is to provide pro bono legal counsel to unaccompanied immigrant children in the United States. We launched KIND with commitments from 26 law firms and corporate legal departments, 13,000 hours of committed pro bono work per year, financial support for more than $2 million per year, as well as enthusiastic support from many of the nonprofit groups. Commitments to KIND have grown to even higher levels since then. Within the last year, we have worked with 1,000 pro bono lawyers and trained them to represent children facing immigration hearings.

We’ve learned a lot along the way. Through KIND we’ve learned how even the most vulnerable children can thrive when they get a fair shake. Through our own employee community we have learned what can be achieved when the best minds mix, no matter where they are from. And we learned again the lesson that has been so clear for so long – that America needs smart comprehensive immigration reform.

Lydia Tamez is an Associate General Counsel leading the immigration team at Microsoft.



Patriotic Duty

The irony couldn’t have been more obvious. Some of the very same people celebrating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall also happened to be the most ardent supporters of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which resulted in our own wall along our southern border.

“Border Security First,” has become a preoccupation of members of Congress, both opposed to and supportive of immigration reform. Left or right, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican doesn’t seem to matter in this debate. Much of the dialogue has become fixated in a tunnel-vision of arguments over border security, amnesty, and “what part of illegal do you not understand?”

“Demographics First,” should be our national call to action. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that nearly 82 million boomers are expected to retire between now and 2015. During that same time frame, only 67 million people are expected to enter the workforce behind them. That leaves a shortfall of 15 million people. Who will fill the jobs left vacant by those 15 million people?

In a 2009 report, the American Association of Medical Colleges noted the current shortage of physicians is being exacerbated by fewer students entering medical schools at a time when demand for healthcare services is increasing due to the boomer retirements. Even the aerospace industry has expressed concern that 40 percent of its workforce is eligible for retirement in the next four years at a time when we are ramping up production to replacing an aging fleet of aircraft.

Another disturbing trend is our declining national fertility rate. In order for a population to replace itself, every adult female must have 2.1 children in her lifetime. The U.S. fertility rate is currently at that level but is expected to fall by 2015. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Anglos, Asian-Americans and African-Americans, all have sub-replacement fertility rates of 1.8, 1.8 and 2.0, respectively. Hispanics are not only replacing themselves with a fertility rate of 2.9, but are doing their part to provide a future workforce.

Even more dramatic is the rapid decline in Mexican fertility rates. In just 30 years, fertility rates in Mexico have been cut in half to 2.4. Mexico is expected to fall below replacement level by 2030. The irony here is that we are spending billions on building a border wall to keep out people who are going to stop coming because Mexico will need its own workers.

The U.S. has a demand for 500,000 to 600,000 low-skilled workers each year, yet the federal government only issues 5,000 visas for that category. The arbitrary visa cap and the byzantine immigration process are the encouragement to enter illegally. California farmers are moving some of their operations to Mexico to overcome the shortages of farm workers. Our strict limits on high-skilled workers are driving U.S. companies to locate or relocate in Canada. During a recession, why are we exporting low-skilled jobs to Mexico and high-skilled jobs to Canada?

George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” There are plenty of examples that can help us avoid the mistakes of other nations who failed to heed the warnings and advice of demographers. Japan has a fertility rate of 1.3 and is now paying women $3,500 per child, per year, until that child reaches high school as an incentive to increase fertility rates. Japan is no longer the economic superpower it once was because of its aging population.

Russia has passed the tipping point and is experiencing depopulation---losing 700,000 people each year. Russia has implemented a new national holiday---a National Day of Procreation where people are expected to stay home, close the curtains, and do their patriotic duty. In Italy and Spain, one-child families are now the norm. Even Canada has fertility rate of 1.6---well below replacement level.

One of Solon’s laws stated that the best type of representative government is one in which a nation elects a wise council to debate and adopt policies. Our Congress would be wise to focus their attention on the glaring signals that drive our economy: boomer retirements + declining fertility rates = the need for immigration reform.

The ancient Greeks believed that life consisted of emotion and logic and that one should never dominate the other. Emotion and logic must always remain in harmony and balance. It is this unique commandment that is missing from our national dialogue on immigration reform. With emotion running roughshod over logic for the last several years, is it any wonder that Americans have had such trouble debating the issue with a civil tongue?

Let’s do our patriotic duty and put demographics first.

Eddie Aldrete is a Senior Vice President with Laredo, Texas-based IBC Bank. He is an active member of the Immigration Committee of the US Chamber of Commerce, Texas Border Coalition, Texas Employers for Immigration Reform, and Chair-Elect of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.