TCS Daily

TCS host Jim Glassman talks with the eight-term Congressman from Arizona

By James K. Glassman - July 24, 2000 12:00 AM

Standing up for technology and free markets can definitely carry a political price, as Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) has found. When Kolbe fought to allow more highly-skilled immigrants to come here and help our tech companies grow, the result was a rash of negative ads in his home market. But in a recent conversation with TCS host Jim Glassman, the eight-term Congressman from Arizona's 5th District vows to continue the good fight.

Jim Glassman: The great advantage of the U.S. is that everybody wants to come here, and we can basically choose the All-Stars we want from around the world. Isn't this just a simple matter - almost like a no-brainer - to accept highly skilled immigrants who want to come here and will create wealth and jobs?

Congressman Kolbe: Well, to me, it's pretty close to that. I guess, I would say that the first priority ought to go to Americans who want the jobs, but we don't have the people to fill those jobs, so under those circumstances, yes, it to me is almost a no-brainer. We need to have these jobs in order to maintain these kinds of companies, to maintain our lead technologically, to be able to provide jobs for Americans. So, we definitely need to import brain power. If you don't have it, you import brain power. If you don't have metal, you import the metal and you just have to import what you need to have and in this case, it's these kinds of technological know-how.

Glassman: Why is this even controversial?

Kolbe: Well, it's controversial because a lot of people misunderstand and a lot of people choose to have people misunderstand. They just don't realize that we're talking about jobs that aren't getting filled. You hear anecdotal stories. For example, at the American Airlines counter, as I was checking in, the woman there was telling me about her nephew in Chandler, Arizona. She said he works for a high-tech company up there and they've got Americans they're not giving jobs to because they want to give them to foreigners at lower pay. And I know that's not true, but I mean, I think it's one of the things where the perceptions are getting around and people just have a lot of misinformation about this.

Glassman: Now, you have been attacked by a group called FAIR.

Kolbe: Right.

Glassman: What has been the nature of the attacks?

Kolbe: Well, they basically say, "Here's a person who is from Europe or here's a person from India standing in line to take a job from your son, your daughter, your nephew. Call Congressman Kolbe to tell him not to give the job to a foreigner, keep the jobs for Americans." That's the thrust of the advertising that they are doing. And it's based on misinformation. What people don't realize is that these companies are not like an automobile assembly plant or a steel manufacturing plant where you have huge capital investment and a fixed asset. They can pick this up and move any place. The brain power is what counts, and if they don't have the brain power here, they're going to move someplace else where they can get it. And that's why it's so important for us to make sure we have this brain power so that we can keep these jobs here and keep these businesses and keep this technological edge.

Glassman: Many of the directors and advisers of FAIR actually favor limits on population growth. It's not just immigration, but the population growth in general. Is it your impression that they're just against immigration, or that they are against having more people in this country, period?

Kolbe: The FAIR, which is the Federation for American Immigration Reform, is against immigration, period. They would like to see it at zero or as close to zero as possible for any kind of immigrants coming to the United States. So, they do oppose immigration. I think there's some underlying currents in this group. They think there's already too much diversity in the American population; they want to see it kept pretty much the way it is. They don't want to see too many more foreigners coming into the United States. I think that's very subtle and it's very much a part of what I think a lot of these groups stand for. And they're opposed to just any kind of immigrants coming to the United States.

Glassman: Whether it's low-skilled or high-skilled?

Kolbe: Whether it's low-skilled or high-skilled, that's right. They oppose any kind of expansion of the guest worker program; they oppose any expansion of the family reunification program, but especially they oppose those that are for worker programs, like the high-tech or the guest worker program. And you know at the lower end of the scale, we have the same problem. We just can't get people to fill these jobs. Now what happens in those cases is that they are generally filled by illegals. Those positions are hidden enough, they are in the corner someplace, people aren't aware of them and they can get false documents and get a job -- not true with somebody in the high-tech area, where you have to pay a lot of money to get them and they are very visible and they have to have all kinds of documentation. So, those people - you can only get them up here on a legal status.

Glassman: Just to be clear, you're not in favor of illegal immigration, are you?

Kolbe: No. No. I believe very strongly that every country has a right to control its immigration, set an immigration policy and then to control those who come in out of the country. That's why I've been so strong about getting resources to the border in Arizona where we have this terrible, terrible problem. We're at the epicenter of where all these illegal immigrants are coming through the border into the United States and it's been devastating to our communities and folks who live in the rural parts of Arizona. So I've been very much in favor of getting resources down to the border to try to put a stop to this. I believe the country has the right to control its immigration policy and to set the numbers of people that come in and make sure they come legally. But having said that, I think we have a need clearly in this high tech area, very clearly in this high-tech area. And in southern Arizona we're very dependent on this. Last week I was just meeting somebody who was the president of a company called Edmonds Optical, and he was saying he's offering a signing bonus but he can't get people with an optical background. There just aren't any people there that have these kinds of degrees, this kind of education.

Glassman: So, it's a good thing to be able to bring skilled labor into this country in the same way we might import some kind of a precious metal for production that we don't happen to find in this country?

Kolbe: Yes, that's exactly right. We have to have chrome for example. You can't produce missiles, you can't produce cars, you can't produce all kinds of things if you don't have chrome. And yet there are some people who think that trade with other countries is bad, per se, but if you would confront them with this kind of a choice, "You don't have this, you can't produce automobiles," then I think they will have to change their view. Similarly here, if you say, "If you don't import this kind of labor here, you're going to lose this kind of industry, you're going to lose these companies and they're going to go elsewhere." We live in an age that is totally information technology-driven, where information can move around the world in a second and it's just very easy for companies to pack up and move to where the labor is located in this kind of business.

Glassman: Is anyone buying into FAIR's message?

Kolbe: Oh, yes. I think a lot of people buy into it. It has less fertile ground right now that the economy is as strong as it is, but when times get bad or the economy loses some of its steam, then you're going to hear a lot more from these people and a lot more from people who sympathize with that. But I think that people just in general are nervous, they are always looking over their shoulders, wondering when the company might turn down, and they are always fearful that somebody else might take their jobs. So a lot of people are saying, "I don't want any immigration, I don't want anybody coming in."

Glassman: But, you're running for re-election, correct?

Kolbe: Right.

Glassman: And they're running ads that are directed at you. Have those ads had an effect?

Kolbe: Slight effect. We certainly had some people who called up and complained or said, "We want you to vote against any expansion of the H-IB visa." When you talk to most of them and you explain what it is -- and we're not talking about people who are carpenters or construction or masonry or truck drivers, but we're talking about people who have very high skills who simply are not available here -- then they change their tune. They realize that that's what we're talking about. "Yeah, I understand the need for that kind of thing."

Glassman: Is part of the problem that the ads themselves try to confuse the issue?

Kolbe: Yes, they do try to confuse the issue. They are very misleading in that sense.

Glassman: In other words, the ads seem to confuse people into thinking that you're in favor of bringing illegals, low-skilled immigrants into the country?

Kolbe: Either illegal or bringing in people for any kind of job -- their jobs, their particular jobs are what they think you're going after. And of course, we're not. We're going after high-tech, and by the way, people in the high-tech field have no fear about this. They know that they can't get workmates for them and they know that their company is in jeopardy if they can't get other people in to fill these jobs.

Glassman: By the way, are you aware of some of the people who are on the board of FAIR? For one thing, one of the members of the Board is Richard Lamm, who is a former Governor of Colorado.

Kolbe: Yep, and of course, he's the no-growth guy, the one who wants zero population growth - and that's right. It's a very different kind of a view. That's very unfortunate that somebody like that would be on that board.

Glassman: Another one is Paul Ehrlich, who is...well-known for having made predictions in the 1970s that we were going to run out of lots of precious materials. The other one is the Honorable Eugene McCarthy, who I assume is the same person who ran for the Presidency...and another is a woman named Bonnie Erbe, unless somebody has the same name, she's frequently seen on television I think, as a feminist.

Kolbe: Yes, I was going to say I know the name and I'm trying to place her, but I don't exactly know where she comes from.

Glassman: So, does it surprise you at all that people who, you know, have had good reputations in some ways and maybe lean a little bit to the left or maybe pro-abortion are members of this group?

Kolbe: Well, it's an interesting phenomenon... this is where those who are on the extreme left in the environmental groups, who don't believe there should be any growth and who want us to believe that the world is running out of resources, and those on the right, who are nativists and nationalists who don't believe we should be allowing any of these foreigners who will dilute our good stock in this country -- where they come together on this issue.

Glassman: One last question, Congressman. Have you as a result of these attacks, either abandoned or diluted your effort to bring these high-tech all-stars to America?

Kolbe: Heavens, no! I mean, this is something we need very badly in Arizona and I'm not going to change my position even if I was convinced that it was going to cost me the election. I think it's the right thing to do and I'm going to work very hard to make sure we get an expansion of this program. If we don't get it, we're going to be in trouble in this country.

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