Updated 09:53 PM EDT, Mon, Mar 27, 2017
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Immigration Reform 2014: Secretary of Commerce Expresses Support for Reform, Stresses Its Economic Importance

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Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker
Penny Pritzker testifies before a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee confirmation hearing on her nomination to be Commerce secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington May 23, 2013. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS CRIME LAW)

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker expressed her support for comprehensive immigration reform for the second time this week. 

Pritzker, whose great-grandfather immigrated from Russia at age 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 U.S.  

"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. The council was attended by consuls from Mexico, the United Arab Emirates and France, in addition to local city leader Jan Perry. 

She said that immigration reform under a Senate-passed bill would bring $1.4 trillion to the U.S. economy over the next 20 years. She said that in California, the passage of reform could create 77,000 new jobs and bring $7 billion to the state's economy "in the near term."

Pritzker also said it is important to keep entrepreneurs and innovators who were educated at American universities in the country. 

Fifty percent of doctorate candidates for math and science are immigrants, with 57 percent studying engineering, which are areas in which the U.S. has a crucial need. 

"So we are training many, many immigrants and then saying to them that they can leave," she said. "It's crazy."

She also stressed her support for the Senate-passed bill, 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 said that many immigrants are also entrepreneurs, noting that 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or children of immigrants. She added that 28 percent of new businesses are run by immigrants. 

Pritzker said the increase of immigrants in business may also increase international commerce, especially in the wake of the Commerce Department's new initiative to increase exports with Free Trade Agreement partners. 

"It's a side benefit and I don't know if that has been calculated in," Pritzker said. "Being multicultural is a great asset."

Pritzker expressed her support for reform at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier in the week. She also said she was optimistic that an immigration reform deal could pass this year. 

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