Inside the Capitol

Monday, May 21, 2007

Can Immigration Be the Solution to Some Problems?


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- It's not often that cooperation makes the news. We see precious little of it these days and when we do, it doesn't seem to grab as many readers, listeners or viewers as does conflict.

      If you're still with me for a second paragraph, please stick around and consider some recent examples of good news in politics.

      Sen. Pete Domenici was a participant last week in a bipartisan agreement between the White House and a group of Republican and Democrat senators who will try to sell a compromise proposal  to their colleagues on the subject of immigration reform.

   Any agreement on that controversial subject will be very difficult to reach but information later in this column may turn out to be of help.

   Three weeks ago, the U.S. Senate passed what Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee called the most important piece of legislation in the 110th Congress. The other two leaders of that effort were New Mexico Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman.

   The legislation is called the America COMPETES Act. Sen. Bingaman has spent years pushing for international competitiveness. Everyone wants it but few members of Congress have been willing to make the necessary commitments.

   But in concert with Sens. Domenici and Alexander, the trio was able to pull in chairmen and senior members of committees vital to passage of the bill. The committees agreed to waive their jurisdictional prerogatives in order to make all the parts fit together. The result was a final vote of 88-8 in the Senate.

   The core of increasing America's competitiveness in a global economy is  a much stronger emphasis on math and science. The bill calls for a $60 billion effort to double federal spending for physical sciences research, recruit 10,000 math and science teachers and retrain 250,000 more, provide grants to researchers and invest more in high-risk, high-payoff research.

   It can be done. It was in the 1960s, when America decided it must catch up with the Soviets in space. But the spending dropped as soon as we attained our goal. Now we are in the boat of trying to catch up with the brainpower advantage India and China have opened up.

   That gap has grown so wide that Asians no longer are coming in such great numbers to America to study and work. They are being educated in their own countries, which then draw jobs from America.

   The embattled House still has to act but the White House participated in the Senate effort to craft a bipartisan bill and President Bush traveled to Rio Rancho last year to push the science initiative.

   Also in Rio Rancho, last week, Intel hosted an International Science and Engineering Fair, where Intel board chairman Craig Barrett warned that American students are slipping academically compared with their international peers. He urged a commitment to produce teachers who can inspire students to create the amazing work that was on display at the science fair.

   It won't be easy. Science has come in for a lot of battering ever since the creationism debate began again. In the most recent Republican presidential debate, three candidates indicated they do not believe in evolution. A fourth waffled. They may be in the mainstream. There are reports that over half of Americans believe the book of Genesis is literally true.

   In a recent column, I joked about Iran trying to attract chemists and physicists to the jihad against the West, claiming that it can satisfy their scientific ambitions. I noted that I checked the Nobel Prize winners in chemistry and physics from the Arab world and found only two in the last 100 years.

   My comments produced a reader response that we'll never be beaten by brainpower. We'll be beaten by immigrants with their high birth rates that will overcome us.

   Another reader e-mailed an article from the May 15 Wall Street Journal Online contending that the only salvation for Social Security  and Medicare, with baby boomers retiring and fewer workers left to support them, is increased immigration. Hmmm, worth considering?

WED, 5-23-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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