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T.J. Rodgers: ‘People Are the Economy’

C. Sherburne | Photodisc | Getty Images

The technology sector, one of the most vibrant, crucial segments of the economy, needs immigrants to thrive, Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers said Thursday.

“I look at Silicon Valley, the most successful part of the American economy. I see my company being a third immigrants and two-thirds minorities,” he said on CNBC’s “The Kudlow Report.”

“To me, these people are the people like the Italians and the Irish before them that came in and built this country. I think we ought to quit screwing around with them. I think (President) Obama’s move is political, but so what? I’ll take what i can get.”

This week, Obama announced a policy shift to issue work permits to younger, undocumented immigrants, possibly affecting up to 800,000 people, and ordered a halt to their deportations.

Rodgers said that the immigration issue doesn’t need to be solved just for the tech sector.

“I don’t just run a chip company with high tech people working for me,” he said. “I have three vineyards. Without immigrants, we wouldn’t have workers for the vineyards, and we have experienced times in California where the crops rotted in the field, so this whole idea that somehow people are coming across the border and taking crop-harvesting jobs that Americans have been lining up for and somehow that’s making unemployment higher, I just don’t buy it.”

While opposed to illegal immigration, Rodgers saw foreign workers as crucial to the nation.

“The whole concept that somehow people are dragging the economy is wrong,” he said. “People are the economy. The intelligence and wealth they create is what creates the jobs.”

Rodgers also criticized the increasing militarization of the border, alluding to a famous Ronald Reagan speech.

“To me, that makes the country look weak. What made the Soviet Union look weak? ‘Gorbachev, tear down this wall.’ When a country is so screwed up it has to put a wall between itself and its neighbor, that puts weakness on the other side of the fence,” he said.

High-tech gadgets, giant walls and the use of military resources, he argued, makes the United States look weak.

“This militarization of the border is politicians one up each other for who can be tougher on Mexican agricultural immigrants. To me, it’s nothing I want to have anything to do with,” he said. “It embarrasses me about the Republicans.”

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros backed a three-part solution to the immigration issue.

  • Border security: “Safeguard the border. A country has the right, and ought, to do that.”
  • “Some kind of legalization, because we need them as workers.”
  • Earned path to citizenship: “Because we don’t want to have a second-class of people who can never become citizens.”

Cisneros, also a former mayor of San Antonio and currently CEO of CityView, also took a broader economic view of immigration.

“Silicon Valley is clearly important to our country. There is a spectrum of the immigration scene that is needed by Silicon Valley. We have immigrants from Pakistan, India, well-educated Chinese filling the engineering jobs,” he said. “But there are other industries, including agricultural production, construction, that require a different spectrum of the work force, so I think there is ample room to do serious constructive immigration reform across the board. Unfortunately, it’s not going to get done this year. It’s not going to get done in this climate.”

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