Making a case for immigrants and innovation

Economics editor Chris Farrell

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Bill Radke: Michigan's Attorney General has filed a legal brief on behalf of nine states supporting Arizona's strict immigration law. The White House has filed suit to block Arizona's law, saying immigration is a federal issue. Marketplace's economics editor Chris Farrell says the debates over amnesty and border security are missing an important point. Good morning Chris.

Chris Farrell: Good morning, Bill.

Radke: You think that what we need is more immigrants.

Farrell: Look Bill: With all the heated rhetoric about illegals and amnesty, border security, racial profiling, one aspect of immigration isn't getting enough attention: it is the job-creating potential of immigrant entrepreneurs.

Radke: Well I think most people would say entrepreneurship, it's a good thing in this country. How big a role, though, do immigrants really play in that area?

Farrell: Well we all know the importance that immigrants have had in Silicon Valley writ large, right? So just one number: a quarter of engineering and technology companies that were started in the U.S. from 1995 to 2005, you know, a quarter of them had at least one founder that was foreign-born.

Radke: Well Chris, is the anti-immigration sentiment a reaction to entrepreneurs, or is it more about uneducated, undocumented workers sneaking in?

Farrell: Well it's really rationed against undocumented, uneducated workers, you're absolutely right. But the problem is, in terms of the backlash that's going on against illegal immigrants, it's becoming against all outsiders. And you know, we live in a global economy where there's a lot of competition for brain power and entrepreneurial hustle. So what I worry about is in fast-growing emerging markets, rather than going to university here and then staying here and creating a company, you're going to say you know, it's just so much easier just to stay at home and create my entrepreneurial dream there.

Radke: Well encouraging immigration has been controversial. What can the government do about this that it can pull off politically?

Farrell: Oh, there's so many things the government can do. One, we would really love if we could tone down the rhetoric. But you know, on a very practical level, let's make it really easy for educated immigrants to come here, go to university, and when they graduate, to stay there, to permanently stay in the U.S. These are the kinds of things we need to do.

Radke: That's Marketplace's economics editor Chris Farrell. Chris, good to talk to you, thanks.

Farrell: Thanks a lot, Bill.

About the author

Chris Farrell is the economics editor of Marketplace Money.

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