AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The partisan stalemate on immigration has led to the longest government shutdown in history and a national emergency declaration over a border wall. Neither President Trump nor Democrats seem willing to budge from their positions, but let’s speak now with someone who thinks they can broker a compromise, Jay Timmons. He’s president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers. The lobbying group has drafted an immigration plan and sent it to Congress. And Timmons went to the border city of McAllen, Texas, to understand the situation up close. Welcome to the program.
JAY TIMMONS: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
CORNISH: Now, I understand you met with charities serving both asylum-seekers and the Border Patrol – wondering if you met someone there whose story stays with you.
TIMMONS: I met several, to be very honest. One that was very heart-wrenching was a woman with two small children. And she had come from Guatemala. And I had asked her, you know, what brought her to the United States. The gangs had killed a couple of – two of her brothers and then killed her husband and said that they were coming for the children. And so she just fled to escape that. And she said, I probably would have stayed except for my children. And I got thinking how horrible that decision would have been if she didn’t have children – to stay there and face that violence, the threat of death herself. But with her own children, it was apparently a pretty easy decision to leave and come north.
CORNISH: So with these stories in mind, how are you approaching the administration, right? You have a president who’s called for a national emergency, and your plan does advocate for a border wall.
TIMMONS: It advocates for all types of security, but it also focuses on how we treat those who are seeking asylum and also those who are here under refugee status as well as those who would like to come here and work permanently. It’s really a comprehensive plan because we feel it has to be comprehensive.
For one side to simply say, we want to focus on security and nothing else, another side to say, we only want to focus on bringing people here who have horrible situations, we don’t think that covers the entire problem. We really believe that everyone in this discussion has some very valid points that need to be addressed. And we hope that our plan allows the conversation to start.
CORNISH: Now, you’ve talked about your plan being comprehensive, and you do call for Congress to overhaul legal immigration as well. The U.S. already admits more than a million legal permanent residents a year. So are you arguing to broaden that or just a different mix of immigrants who are allowed in?
TIMMONS: You know, it’s a little bit of both. We believe that there is a need right now for those who would like to come here in an H-1B status or high-skilled status, if you will, to have a focus in our system on those individuals because we frankly don’t have enough people here in this country who can fill so many of those jobs.
CORNISH: Could it also be that manufacturing jobs are less attractive today than they once were, not that it’s a problem with the worker?
TIMMONS: Part of our problem – you’re exactly right – is that the perception of manufacturing jobs is not as positive as it should be. And a lot of people don’t understand that modern manufacturing is all about high-skilled, high-tech, very sleek, very clean jobs. So that is on us for sure, but we have 428,000 openings today, and there are of course 7 million openings in the general economy. So clearly we need – and the president has acknowledged that we need immigration to help us fill some of these jobs.
CORNISH: What are your hopes about what will make the difference, meaning, why would your organization or this particular plan make headway where others have failed?
TIMMONS: Well, you know what? I would say that there is broad interest in the success of manufacturing on a bipartisan basis from both Republicans and Democrats. And so we feel that we can come to the table with a solution to point out that this is not only good for manufacturing, but it’s good for the soul of America to get this problem behind us and to end this division and divisiveness.
We are proud to be able to sit down with elected leaders of all political stripes because we do have the credibility of the manufacturing workforce behind us. Twelve and a half – or 12.8, actually – million Americans work in manufacturing. So we walk in with those people and their families behind us with an idea for some real solutions.
CORNISH: Jay Timmons is president of the National Association of Manufacturers. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
TIMMONS: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
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