Former President George W. Bush says immigration is a key to improving the U.S. economy.
Bush on Tuesday opened a conference on the benefits of immigration hosted by the George W. Bush Institute and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Scholars, immigration experts and business leaders from around the nation promoted immigration as a tool for improving the country's economic growth rate.
"Immigrants come with new skills and new ideas. They fill a critical gap in our labor market," Bush said in his opening remarks.
Bush said that, as the nation debates immigration policy, he hopes "we do so with a benevolent spirit and keep in mind the contribution of immigrants."
Nina Vaca, founder of Pinnacle Technical Resources, attended the conference as an example of how immigrants can contribute to America. She came to the United States from Mexico with her parents from Mexico.
"After graduating from college, I did what I was taught to do my whole life, and that was leverage now the one asset that I was given, and that was education," she said.
Her company now employs 4,000 information technology experts who provide services to large U.S. companies.
"I lived in a country where if you were willing to work hard, you can make something of yourself and, so I took that education, and I did," Vaca said.
The conference was held at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, but it is the kind of meeting the former president hopes to host in the future at the Bush Center which opens in April at Southern Methodist University.
The center will house the Bush Library and the Bush Institute.
One of the Bush Institute's focuses is economic growth. Tuesday's conference is part of an institute initiative to find ways for the U.S. to achieve 4 percent gross domestic product growth.
Bush notes that a book the institute released over the summer on achieving 4 percent GDP included chapters on the importance of immigrants to growth.
"We're a nonpartisan, action-oriented institute that focuses on human freedom," Bush said.
The idea of a Bush think tank at SMU sparked criticism when it was first proposed, but economist Bernard Weinstein of SMU's Maguire Energy Institute said the Bush Institute avoids politics as the former president promised it would.
"And I think the Bush Institute wants to get the facts out and have a policy discussion -- whether it's immigration or education or any other issue -- that's based on fact and not on fiction, not on rhetoric, not on ideology," he said.