Immigration politics

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

For the second consecutive day, our Opinion page spotlights immigration reform. Today, we hear from a supporter of the bill that recently passed the Senate. A Georgia congressman writes about his opposition to that proposed legislation. And an Atlanta businessman emphasizes the importance for Washington to move quickly and productively on this contentious issue.

There are three columns today. Commenting is open.

Reform will benefit Georgia

By Floyd R. Blair

Senators from both parties came together this summer and passed humane immigration reform, Senate Bill 744. For those of us who favor a practical and fair way of fixing our broken immigration system, this was cause for celebration.

At the head of the celebration should be Georgians. Nearly 1 in 10 Georgians is an immigrant. Immigrants are our neighbors, friends, employees and employers. Our diversity is what makes our state so vibrant. Immigration reform holds out the promise that newcomers will be able to more fully enrich our society and economy.

However, much work lies ahead. We must urge leaders in the House of Representatives to pass bipartisan legislation that mirrors S. 744’s strengths right away — because keeping families together is vital to our congregations and communities.

Why is family unity key here? As CEO of Lutheran Services of Georgia, an organization that provides community-based programs serving native-born and new Americans, I’m reminded of the answers each day.

What comes to mind first is our program for visiting immigrants who have been detained for civil, not criminal, violations. One detainee I know of was the sole provider for his family, which included a young son with autism and cancer. Despite committing no criminal offense, this father was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement one day and sent to a detention center. This detention deprived the vulnerable son of the medical care he needed, and his father’s love. Thankfully, S. 744 includes measures that would give children a better chance of staying with their parents.

Besides preserving family unity, S. 744 can move America forward in three other critical ways. First, it provides a road map by which undocumented people can eventually earn citizenship. Second, it better ensures humane and just enforcement of immigration laws by reducing the use of immigrant detention and expanding community support programs. Third, it creates more efficient and humane processes to protect refugees and other vulnerable migrants.

I know there’s nothing unique about the suffering I’ve seen under the broken immigration system. Nor is there anything unique to Lutherans about supporting immigration reform. In fact, the commitment to seeking reform unites the majority of Americans.

Sometimes, our reasons for supporting immigration reform come from common-sense observations about what’s good for our economy and society; sometimes, the reasons are deeply personal. For me, growing up in New York City, Ellis Island was a constant reminder of the immigrants who had passed through on their way to beginning new lives. It showed that our country has a tradition of welcoming others, and that it is our duty to uphold that tradition.

S. 744’s passage shows our lawmakers are beginning to heed Americans’ call to confront the human suffering in their own communities and congregations. However, the work of securing humane immigration reform is just beginning. Now is the moment for the House to show bipartisan leadership and pass a fair and effective reform bill. Georgians expect no less from our elected officials.

Floyd R. Blair is president/CEO of Lutheran Services of Georgia and is in the ordination process for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Founding fathers had the right idea

By Rob Woodall

A prominent American once laid out a vision of our nation as “a safe and agreeable place” for “virtuous and persecuted people” from around the world. It wasn’t President Barack Obama or Sen. Chuck Schumer who articulated that vision; it was our first president, George Washington.

President Washington rightly viewed immigration not as an obstacle to our nation’s success, but as integral to it. And it is precisely because immigration is so critical to our success that we must get immigration reform right. The Senate bill, even if written with good intentions, has gotten immigration reform wrong.

The Senate’s comprehensive reform bill, passed in June, was immediately met with bipartisan opposition in the House of Representatives. Much like other “comprehensive” efforts, S. 744 was written behind closed doors, loaded with special-interest deals, and extends over more than a thousand pages.

Regrettably, rather than crafting a bill designed to improve our immigration system, the Senate crafted a political messaging mega-bill designed simply to win as many votes as possible. To win some of those votes, the Senate made promises on border security and enforcement that either can’t be kept or were made to be broken. America can do better, and we must. The House is committed to doing exactly that as we work to overhaul America’s broken immigration system.

While the most controversial ideas about immigration reform draw the most attention, a vast majority of Americans agree on common-sense ideas that we can pass today, like securing our border, enforcing our laws and reforming our visa system. By addressing these areas of common ground one bill at a time, we can build upon — rather than compromise — the values that have made America the greatest nation on earth. This is what we owe to the American people, to those who aspire to join our ranks, and to those who have paved the way.

This debate is neither hopeless nor new. Wise Americans have already laid the foundation for what our immigration system should look like. We have always wanted the hardest workers and the brightest minds from around the world, and James Madison said as much in 1790. The purpose of immigration, he said, is “to increase the wealth and strength of the community.”

Those words, and that vision, should echo throughout the halls of Congress once more today. My colleagues and I in the House are committed to reforming our immigration system to reflect that vision — one step at a time, on the floor of the House and in plain view of the folks we represent.

Special interests ask the question, “What is good for this group or that?” I ask the question, “What is good for America?” Presidents Washington and Madison answered that question more than 200 years ago, and the answer remains the same today. I am committed to charting a path forward on immigration reform. As long as we’re asking the right questions, the answers will be ones that make America strong and the American people proud.

Rob Woodall, a Republican, represents Georgia’s 7th Congressional District.

Decisive work needed

By Todd Rushing

My partner Bob Amick and I own and operate five restaurants in Atlanta employing 300 people. Our employees are immigrants from Mexico and Central America. They are cooks, dishwashers and service staff, all vital to a restaurant’s success.

We need Congress to repair the immigration system so it benefits our business and the economy. We need stronger border security and immigration law enforcement. Congress must also provide businesses a way to verify if new hires are legally eligible to work.

Most unauthorized immigrants are otherwise law-abiding, hard-working individuals whose work bolsters U.S. prosperity and sustains jobs. We should allow them to earn their way onto the right side of the law. Meaningful reform, however, must look beyond today’s unauthorized immigrants. The heart of reform is mending the immigration system so it works for America’s future, admitting the immigrants we need and preventing future illegal immigration.

Our restaurants pay well above the minimum wage, between $9.50 and $19 an hour. However, the U.S. labor force has changed dramatically. Today’s workers are more educated than the generation before and have other employment options. Often, there are not enough willing and able Americans to answer the labor shortage. The restaurant sector is not unique. Many indispensable industries rely on less-skilled immigrants. Without this workforce, these sectors would be severely hobbled or collapse.

The greatest problem is there is virtually no legal way for less-skilled foreigners without family in the U.S. to enter the country and work in year-round jobs. The two, existing, temporary worker programs for less-skilled workers are for seasonal labor on farms and at summer and winter resorts. There are virtually no permanent visas for less-skilled workers who want to settle in the United States.

Congress needs to fill this gap by developing a visa program for less-skilled, non-farm workers. Employers should hire Americans first and pay decent wages. If they cannot find enough U.S. workers, however, they should be able to hire foreign workers quickly, easily and legally. Any new program should also respond in real time to changing U.S. labor needs, growing in prosperous years when the economy needs more foreign workers, and shrinking in down times when more Americans are out of work.

Without a workable temporary visa program, the nation cannot hope to end illegal immigration. An overwhelming majority of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. today would rather be here legally. Without a legal way for less-skilled workers to come to the U.S. in the future, we will find ourselves in exactly the same predicament — wondering what to do about a new influx of millions of unauthorized immigrants.

Fixing our broken immigration system cannot be put off. If we do not create a legal way for less-skilled immigrants to enter the country and work, we will not restore the rule of law and will guarantee that millions more come to the U.S. illegally. The stakes could hardly be higher. We need Congress to act decisively and swiftly.

Todd Rushing is part-owner of Concentrics Restaurants.

20 comments Add your comment

Dave

September 14th, 2013
6:42 pm

What I meant to say at the end of my 6:16 comment:

“That said, our disfunctional immigration system does need to be changed; but, the change can’t be an excuse for putting more people into jobs that do NO more than allow them to exist.”

And while I’m at it, I’m skew socially liberal; but, I don’t understand the “path to citizenship” thing that we are considering. We need to find a way to legalize the millions of people that are here illegally; but, not to use them as a way to depress wages. They are here because the money they make and the life they live is better than they would have where they came from; but, we can’t use them as an excuse to depress low end job wages. But, I see no reason that they should be able to “jump the line” for citizenship. Legalize their presence and allow them to apply for citizenship just like anyone else. Pass laws that pay them and Americans a living wage. Will it cost us some extra money at Mr. Rushing’s restaurants? Almost certainly so; but, should we eat cheap and Mr. Rushing make, I’d bet, a really nice living, on the back of restaurant workers? I say no.

Dave

September 14th, 2013
6:16 pm

“Our restaurants pay well above the minimum wage, between $9.50 and $19 an hour….Employers should hire Americans first and pay decent wages. If they cannot find enough U.S. workers, however, they should be able to hire foreign workers quickly, easily and legally.”

Mr. Rushing, a way to hire Americans first, if that is really what you want to do is to pay a living wage. Your workers, even at the high end of your scale can’t live a more than existence life on what you pay.
I’d like to know what the average, median and mode of your pay scale is, especially if you would add in the front house servers earning restaurant minimum at a bit over $2 an hour. At your somewhat high end places, the front house people may well make a living wage. Do you provide health care or do you depend on government to subsidize your operation just as your customers do with tips?

It seems to me that you want to expand your labor pool to folks that will accept the non-”decent” wages that you pay, driving down your costs.

That said, our disfunctional immigration system does need to be changed; but, the change can’t be an excuse for putting more people into jobs that do more than allow them to exist.

Starik

September 14th, 2013
4:45 pm

Hey Roger B….unskilled immigrant workers don’t get less pay, they just do what they’re paid to do. They actually work.

Starik

September 14th, 2013
4:41 pm

America needs to remain a county that welcomes immigrants who come here to work hard and become good citizens. If we don’t let the illegals stay we’re cheating ourselves.

Jack ®

September 14th, 2013
9:51 am

Start a restaurant, Whirled Peas. Then come back and tell how well you did paying $15 an hour for dishwashers.

Whirled Peas

September 14th, 2013
8:11 am

The restaurant owner above wants a perpetual supply of cheap workers. What he does not know, or at least won’t say, is that illegal alien workers are cheap only to their employer. Many of their costs are picked up by the taxpayer. Costs like healthcare, food, cell phones, and education are borne by the tax payers.

Not voting for immigration reform does not mean we want the existing system. We want the existing border enforced and the jobs of illegal immigrants given to legal residents. Things not being done well now. Without jobs or stuff provided by the taxpayers, illegal immigrants will return home. Lets give these jobs to people here legally.

I recently retired from The Big Phone Co. I watched them bring in two workers from Egypt who they paid little. Then they sat the Egyptians down with an American and made him show them how he did his job. A year later they laid off the American and kept the Egyptians. No wonder they want to increase the number of immigrants.

collegeballfan

September 14th, 2013
7:39 am

Voting “NO” on immigration reform means you are voting “YES” on keeping the current system.

The Reverend abhors illegals getting free medical care at hospital ER’s. Obamacare would stop that practice but it appears the House will vote to not fund that part of Obamacare. So we will keep free medical care for anyone in the US, legal or illegal.

A vote of “NO” on immigration reform means voting “YES” to keep the current system of open borders and cheap illegal labor.

It appears that Congress is determined to keep the “status quo” on immigration and medical care.

And you remember what Reagan said about the status quo: ““Status quo you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in’.”

Roger B

September 14th, 2013
2:02 am

Mr Starik says ” I don’t give a damn about whether a worker has the proper papers or not, I want somebody who will come to work every day and do a decent job.” What a guy. Nowhere does he even mention wanting workers who work for less money than legal Americans, thus increasing his personal wealth. What a guy.

Bernie

September 13th, 2013
7:42 pm

Rev. William H. Swann @ 6:53 pm – I am even ashamed for you for such Falsehoods. Truly a REAL and True and faithful Man of God would never utter such things. Satan comes in many forms….even as Reverends.

Rev. William H. Swann

September 13th, 2013
6:53 pm

People who are shouting from the rooftops in favor of this incredibly expensive reform seem to have their hearts where their heads should be, that would be helping people here in this country legally. This bill, as lawmakers in California have already protested, has to be completely paid for by the individual states and local governments. The US Government has completely washed its hands of paying for the boondoggle. Georgia is presently 6th in the nation in illegal immigrants, go to any emergency room or school room around metro Atlanta, and you’ll see many illegals there to get medical care at no cost or an education at taxpayer expense. Being rational and humane I would love for life to be better for people the world over, but I’m tired of being one of the many taxpayers who continue to pay for this better life for those who enter this country illegally.

We are told by professionals that the first segment of the Reform Legislation to be discarded will be the border enforcement. So this legislation will just encourage more people to cross the unprotected border, because it is difficult to prove a negative, such as how long you have actually been in the US; Yesterday or 10 years?

One last thing, I’m a yellow dawg Democrat, it could be argued that the two “most interested in their own welfare governors” in the history of Georgia are the current one and his predecessor, so please do not include me with that self-serving bunch of sellouts. I live in Congressman’s Scott’s district, ask either he or I about our Black unemployment especially among our youth this past summer.