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Bush Commerce Secretary: Slashing Immigration 'Would be Devastating for Our Economy'

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez in Afghanistan

Former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, who served in George W. Bush's administration, accused President Trump of making an "amazing exaggeration" about people who are illegally crossing the border, along with being "misleading" and "fear-mongering" about border security.

"They encourage people, frankly, to walk through Mexico and go into the United States, because they're drug traffickers, they're human traffickers, they're coyotes. I mean, we're getting some real beauties," Trump said Thursday. "Mexico is doing nothing for us except taking our money and sending us drugs."

Gutierrez, who is now chairman of a global business strategy firm, told CNN on Thursday that Trump "makes it sound as if though most immigrants who cross the borders are either drug dealers or criminals, and that is absolutely false."

"This is just rhetoric that incites hatred and incites xenophobia and incites false nationalism," he said. "I think it's very, very regretful."

Gutierrez argued that critics of immigration aren't listening to the country's economic needs.

"Let's see the facts, let's talk numbers. Our unemployment is 3.8 -- a little over 3.8 percent. The unemployment among undocumented workers is less than 3.8. Why? Because there are jobs that are open," he said. "The reason we have illegal immigration is because our legal immigration system doesn't work and our economy needs the workers, and that's the part that people don't understand or don't want to understand."

He said that a bill from House conservatives that proposed cutting legal immigration in half "would be devastating for our economy."

"Our economy grows in two ways. One is the number of workers and the productivity of those workers. Our working-age population isn't growing fast enough, and our productivity is close to nothing, so we need immigration, simply, to grow," Gutierrez continued. "Immigration is an economic strategy. It's an economic policy, and that's what, I am so shocked that it's Republicans who don't understand that. We are supposed to be the party of prosperity, and you cannot have prosperity without immigration."

The former secretary added that "people using talking points -- 'amnesty' -- well, anything is 'amnesty' to them."

"Other people are talking about chain migration. Chain migration in our law is stated as family reunification; 80 percent of our immigration is family reunification. So, are they saying they want to go from 80 to zero?" Gutierrez asked. "If that's the case, we will never get immigration reform. And immigration reform is not building a wall, and it's not cutting legal immigration by one half. If we cut legal immigration by one half, our illegal immigration will grow because our economy needs it. I don't care how big that wall is."