For the second time in a week, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker publicly expressed her support for immigration reform.
"Put simply, this must be at the top of our to-do list," Pritzker said Thursday at an event for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council that was attended by consuls general from Mexico, France and the United Arab Emirates as well as local city leader Jan Perry.
Pritzker, whose great-grandfather immigrated from Russia at the age of 10, told the Los Angeles Times that immigration reform is a "moral, as well as an economic issue" and one that holds "economic opportunity" for the country.
Immigration reform under a Senate-passed bill would boost the U.S. economy by $1.4 trillion over the next 20 years, she said. In California, Pritzker said, the reform would create 77,000 new jobs and swell the economy by $7 billion "in the near term."
Pritzker also stressed the importance of hanging on to entrepreneurs and innovators who are trained in American universities.
Fifty percent of doctorate candidates for math and science are immigrants, as well as 57% of those studying engineering -- areas where the United States has a crucial need, she said.
"So we are training many, many immigrants and then saying to them that they can leave," she said. "It's crazy."
Pritzker expressed support for the immigration bill passed by the Senate, saying it would "expand the temporary and high-skilled worker programs that our businesses need to grow."
"It allows us to staple a green card to the degrees of graduate students, instead of forcing potential innovators and job creators to leave after being trained at our universities -- a mind-boggling concept to me," she said.
She stressed the importance of immigrants as entrepreneurs, noting that 40% of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or children of immigrants and adding that immigrants make up 28% of new businesses.
Tying the topic to the announcement of the Commerce Department's newly announced initiative to increase exports with Free Trade Agreement partners and an "open for business" attitude, Pritzker said the increase of immigrants in business may also improve international commerce.
"It's a side benefit and I don't know if that has been calculated in," Pritzker said. "Being multicultural is a great asset."
At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this week, Pritzker had expressed her support for immigration reform and her optimism that a deal could be struck this year.