Moderated by Rick Badie
The push for a comprehensive immigration law continues in our nation’s capital. The goal: Adopt a credible, bipartisan plan. Today, the president of the Georgia Farm Bureau calls Senate Bill 744 imperfect but necessary so crops won’t rot in the fields. A Tea Party Patriot raises numerous concerns about the proposed legislation and two other authors write about the “essential economy.”
Georgia farmers need immigration bill
By Zippy Duvall
While most Americans agree the current immigration system is a mess, nobody advocates doing nothing. But nothing is exactly what we’ll get if the U.S. Senate fails to pass its immigration reform bill, SB 744. Without Senate action, America will be stuck with its broken immigration system for the next several years.
The Farm Bureau supports passage of the bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. Our country cannot afford to continue with an immigration system that requires employers to assume the role of government in trying to determine the birthplace of their employees.
Securing a reliable and skilled workforce is essential for agriculture and for all the U.S. jobs that depend on farm production. Jobs associated with handling and distributing agricultural commodities depend on workers planting and harvesting crops in the field.
For years, farmers have had difficulty finding workers. Farm jobs are physically demanding and often conducted in extreme weather, but many foreign workers see these jobs as opportunities.
Most Americans do not seek farm employment, but money is not the issue. The main factor is the seasonal and transitory nature of farm work. Most people do not want a job that lasts only six weeks. Even fewer people want to travel across the country picking fruits and vegetables in the hot sun all day. Ask yourself how much money it would take for you to enter such a career.
Current law provides a guest worker program, known as H-2A, which allows foreign workers to legally enter the U.S. to do farm work. Most Georgia H-2A users are larger farms. For a small farmer needing 50 workers for about a month, the H-2A program is too cumbersome and costly to be feasible.
A study released by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development showed that Georgia growers of seven major fruit and vegetable crops lost an estimated $140 million due to the labor shortage in the spring and summer of 2011. These crops represented nearly half the acreage available for harvest that spring, and had a total farm gate value of more than $670 million.
SB 744 will meet the labor needs of farmers through a “blue card” proposal. Farm workers can apply for the card if they pay a fine, undergo background checks and prove they have farm work experience. A blue card does not grant citizenship. It only allows the person to legally remain in the country to do farm work.
The Senate proposal creates a guest worker program to take the place of the current H-2A program. The new program is more streamlined so that more farmers can use it.
SB 744 is not perfect, but it is progress. America needs the Senate to pass this bill. The House of Representatives needs to pass a bill. Then, the two versions can go to conference in hopes of achieving actual reform.
Without Senate leadership, the process for reform in the near term will be stymied, no matter what happens in the House. If the Senate fails to act, the American people will keep the same flawed immigration policy we have right now. Nobody will be happy with that.
Zippy Duvall is president of the Georgia Farm Bureau.
Enforce laws and secure the borders
By Debbie Dooley
Our nation desperately needs immigration reform, but Senate Bill 744 will not correct the issue. We need to streamline the immigration process so people who can contribute to society and not be a burden on the taxpayer can come here in an orderly, legal process. We need to increase quotas for migrant farm workers so farmers can have the necessary workers to pick their crops, but not the 50 percent increase SB 744 does.
Farmers also need to be responsible for health care costs of the migrant workers and their families. Taxpayers should not be burdened with these costs.
We are a nation of laws. Granting amnesty to those who have broken our immigration laws sets a bad precedent and discriminates against legal immigrants who follow our immigration laws. If we grant amnesty, this is a slap in the face to those who have followed our laws.
In 1986, we were promised that, if we supported amnesty for those in this country illegally, our borders would be secured. We trusted our elected officials to secure our borders and supported amnesty. Our government broke its promise; our borders still are not secured 27 years later.
Many of our elected officials, including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, are not being honest with Americans about the immigration bill. There are many waivers in the bill that undo provisions in other sections. I have listed a small portion of these waivers below. For a complete list, please go to: http://bit.ly/13Kf9G0.
SB 744 would:
* Grant amnesty to farm workers illegally in our country after only five years, and waive the 10-year waiting period.
* Void state and local E-Verify laws. The federal E-Verify would not be required for all employers until four years after the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues regulations implementing the mandatory program, which could take a few years.
* Require that DHS waive the public charge law that prohibits that agency from admitting illegal immigrants likely to receive public assistance.
* Provide that when an illegal immigrant applies for legal permanent resident status — at this point, qualifying for federal assistance programs — the applicant need only demonstrate income or resources equal to 125 percent of the federal poverty level.
* Allow DHS to waive multiple misdemeanor convictions when granting amnesty, so an illegal immigrant with three or more misdemeanors still may be eligible for legal status.
SB 744 also does not prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving public assistance from state or local governments. Our nation cannot afford to add this many new people to our assistance programs.
We need to enforce the immigration laws we have now and secure our borders before we pass new laws.
Debbie Dooley is Georgia coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots.
The essential economy
By Sam Zamarripa and Todd Stein
Immigration reform is vital to America’s economy. That simple reality is driving four Republican senators, some of whom are the most conservative members of Congress, to champion the immigration reform bill now being debated on the floor of the US Senate.
Sen. Marco Rubio recently wrote that an immigration reform bill that includes bringing millions of undocumented aliens out of the underground economy “will improve the labor market, increase entrepreneurship and create jobs, leading to a net increase in economic growth.”
For Georgia, the economic stakes are high because of what immigration reform could do to sustain and boost Georgia’s “Essential Economy,” defined by a recent report by Georgia Tech’s Innovation Services Group as the goods and services that are essential to our way of life and that have to be produced right here in Georgia.
A significant percentage of the approximately 440,000 people in the state illegally makeup the workforce that drives Georgia’s essential economy.
That workforce includes the men and women on the frontlines of Georgia’s agriculture industry, harvesting crops, picking produce, and staffing the state’s many poultry plants. It also includes the hotel maids and restaurant workers, the backbone of the hospitality sector that makes Georgia an attractive place to visit or to start or relocate a business.
The essential economy workforce is made up of truck drivers, warehouse personnel and construction workers who have turned manufacturing, logistics, and trade into three of Georgia’s most promising prospects for long-term economic growth. And it includes landscapers as well as nursing home attendants and personal care assistants who are in increasing demand as the state’s population ages.
According to the Georgia Tech report, the essential economy contributed $49 billion in 2010 to Georgia’s gross domestic product and its workforce contributed more than $110 million in sales tax revenue through purchases of goods and services in 2011. Despite the national recession that began in 2008, the essential economy has remained a steady and often times growing part of the economies in Georgia’s 159 counties for the past nine years.
These numbers illustrate that the future of Georgia’s economy depends on sustaining and growing the essential economy, which in turn, creates the foundation for all the jobs in the aspirational economy – the high-skilled, high-wage jobs that Georgia continuously tries to create and attract.
The alternatives to immigration reform – maintaining the status quo or trying to deport the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally – are both impractical and potentially disastrous for the state’s economy.
The status quo does not work in part because Georgia’s population, like the rest of the country is aging. More than 60 percent of the state’s population will be more than 60 years old by 2030, according to the Department of Human Services.
As Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican pushing immigration reform, recently explained, “Unless there is another baby boom in America, the only way to bring new workers into the country is through legal immigration – hi-tech, low-tech, and everything in between. We will be cutting our throat economically if we don’t improve our immigration system to have more legal immigration.”
As for deportation, which Sen. Rubio explains is not a practical solution, many of Georgia’s business leaders can tell you that it is the worst thing we do could to the essential economy. Georgia learned that lesson with House Bill 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011. After the state legislature passed that law, approximately 40 percent of the state’s agriculture labor needs went unmet as unpicked crops rotted in the field, costing Georgia businesses more than $140 million.
Republicans championing immigration reform in the Senate have been instrumental in identifying bipartisan solutions to challenging issues like improving border security and addressing the inadequacies and dysfunction of our current immigration system. But they have also kept their focus on the issue Americans say they care the most about – improving the nation’s economy.
One of the best ways we can achieve a stronger economy in Georgia is to support bi-partisan immigration reform in Washington that gives business owners and their employees certainty about their futures, and ensures that our essential economy has what it needs most to thrive – a robust and vibrant workforce.
Sam Zamarripa, a former Georgia state senator, is founder and co-president of The Essential Economy Council. Todd Stein, who served as majority counsel on the U.S . Senate committee on homeland security and governmental affairs, is a lawyer with Kitchens New Cleghorn LLC and a lecturer at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgia Tech.