Members of a high-power Silicon Valley panel of former Cabinet officials and ex-governors urged Congress on Tuesday to not let partisan politics and the Boston bombings derail comprehensive immigration reform.

"There's been some talk after Boston about slowing down this process, putting this on hold. That's wrong," said Ed Rendell, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, at the Menlo Park forum.

Rendell joined former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. Rep. John Shadegg, R-Arizona, and other ex-officials in asserting that the passage of comprehensive immigration reform -- one likely to include a citizenship pathway for some 11 million illegal immigrants -- will improve, not endanger, American security.

Not enacting major changes is "as much, if not as great, a threat," said Shadegg, who noted his state's border with Mexico is "literally uncontrolled."

He and fellow Republican Haley Barbour, a former Mississippi governor, added it would be proper for the Senate to slow down and move deliberately on immigration reform, but not halt it.

The debate "needs to be thoughtful, open and transparent" or the "American people are not going to tolerate it," Barbour said in an interview. The economy, not political considerations, should be driving Republican thought on the issue, he said.

Much of the discussion centered on the economy needing immigrants, both in the Silicon Valley tech world and in lower-wage fields.

"America's in a global battle for capital and labor," Barbour said.

The task force also met privately Monday at a Menlo Park restaurant to hear the views of several dozen tech industry leaders.

Rice, now a Stanford University professor, said she has fielded many "concerns here in the valley" and in Congress about the current H-1B temporary visa program for skilled workers.

A Senate bill introduced last week would expand the number of H-1B visas but also has restrictions to curtail abuse by companies that use the program to hire lower-wage workers for U.S. jobs.

The program needs to be fixed to protect American workers and to fulfill the ongoing demand for talent but without turning it into a "bureaucratic quagmire" that few can use, said Hilda Solis, who until recently was secretary of labor for the Obama administration.

Also speaking at the forum were former U.S. Rep. Howard Berman, D-Los Angeles, and Henry Cisneros, housing secretary in the Clinton administration.

It was the first public event for the Bipartisan Policy Center's Immigration Task Force, which will be holding similar forums around the country as Congress works through a bill that could dramatically overhaul America's immigration system.

Contact Matt O'Brien at 510-293-2465 or at Twitter.com/mattoyeah.