MENLO PARK (CBS SF) — Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice led a bipartisan gathering of elite politicians in Menlo Park on Tuesday to discuss the importance of moving ahead with national immigration reform.

Rice joined former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros for the panel discussion hosted by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The four politicians co-chair the policy center’s Immigration Task Force, which was formed in February to help guide the process of rewriting the nation’s immigration laws.

Rice, who is a professor at Stanford, said that a healthy and functioning immigration policy that accommodates both highly skilled workers and a manual labor force will be essential to fueling the future economy of the U.S.

“We believe that this is a critical issue for our country’s future,” Rice said.

Rice called Silicon Valley the “epicenter of American leadership,” and implored CEOs and leaders of technology companies who depend on importing highly skilled workers from abroad to press their elected officials on moving forward with immigration reform.

“Of all Silicon Valley companies, 44 percent have at least one founding member who is an immigrant,” Rice said.

Barbour said that the economies of Silicon Valley and the nation depend on welcoming foreign workers of all skill levels to settle in the country and replenish the national work force.

“We need to grow the American economy no matter where you come from,” he said. “GDP growth is almost unattainable if we don’t increase the number of people working here.”

Barbour said that immigration reform goes beyond politics, that improving border security, attracting talent from abroad, and integrating the millions of immigrants already in the country illegally are all in the best interests of politicians on both sides of the aisle.

“I’m not here over politics,” Barbour said. “It’s good economic policy.”

Members of the Immigration Task Force will meet over the coming months to solicit input from business and immigrant communities, and eventually inform the immigration reform debate, which is “making good progress” in Congress, Cisneros said.

Rice said immigration was one of the great “mobilizers of human potential” that keeps the U.S. at the top of world influence and innovation.

“We hope that this bipartisan task force can shed some light on immigration reform,” she said.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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