U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham made a business case for immigration reform during an appearance in the Upstate on Wednesday as he faces re-election next year and the Senate gets ready to take up the issue.
Talking to reporters at the BMW plant in Greer, the Republican from Seneca argued that the nation needs to boost legal immigration as a way of replacing 80 million Baby Boomers heading into retirement.
“As they leave the workforce, who’s going to replace them?” Graham said. “Without a rational, legal immigration system, we’re going to have a hard time growing our economy because you need a workforce.”
Graham said a “rational” immigration system and a practical way of dealing with 11 million illegal immigrants “will help our economy more than anything I can think of. You’ll never convince me it’s better for our economy to pay people under the table who live in the shadows rather than having them come out and being biometrically identified and paying taxes.”
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Appearing with Graham and bolstering his arguments was Robert B. Zoellick, a former president of the World Bank, U.S. trade representative and deputy secretary at the Department of State under various Republican administrations.
Zoellick said he came to South Carolina to help Graham get re-elected.
“Some of the things that he’s doing now on immigration, on tax reform, on trying to get control of spending, are absolutely critical for our country, and I want to make sure that he stays in Washington to help as long as he wants to do so,” Zoellick said.
Graham and seven other senators are promoting an immigration reform plan that would boost spending on border security, allow more highly skilled workers to come to the United States, and provide a pathway for illegal immigrants to become citizens.
Graham said he expects the Senate to take up the issue a week from Monday and he’s optimistic that legislation will pass.
Graham’s only opponent for re-election so far, Powdersville businessman Richard Cash, said the costs of providing federal benefits to illegal immigrants allowed to become citizens will outweigh their benefit to the economy as shown by a recent study by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank run by former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of Greenville.
Cash, who is challenging Graham in the GOP primary, said South Carolina’s senior senator wants to provide a path to citizenship for people who entered the country illegally or stayed after their visas expired.
“And that is highly destructive to the concept of the rule of law,” he said.
Graham said under his reform plan illegal immigrants would have to earn their right to stay in the country, learn English, wait a decade for a green card, pay a $4,000 fine and “get at the back of the line.”
In the House, another Upstate politician, U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg, is taking a leading role on the issue as the head of a subcommittee on immigration.
On Friday, Gowdy is scheduled to talk about immigration reform with Hispanic immigrants in a meeting called by the United Way of Greenville County.
The United Way wanted to provide a forum for members of the Hispanic community to talk with Gowdy about the issue, said Ted Hendry, the organization’s president. The event is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the University Center.
“Our intent is to really kind of deepen the understanding of what the issues are,” Hendry said. He said the press won’t be excluded from the event, “but it was not intended to be a press event.”