Moderated by Rick Badie
President Barack Obama says Congress will pass a comprehensive immigration reform measure before he leaves office in 2017. Businesses that need workers can’t wait that long, notes the president of a Georgia-based poultry-processing plant, so Congress must act now. Meanwhile, an executive for a nonpartisan public-interest group says there’s a surplus of idle workers, but employers prefer foreigners who work for less. Finally, a Gainesville attorney outlines the path to citizenship, or lack thereof, for Mexicans.
Congress: Act on Immigration Reform
By Tom Hensley
Immigration reform is too important to put off another year.
We are a chicken producer and processor in northeast Georgia. We have about 4,700 full-time employees and help sustain jobs in a broad range of businesses in the local economy. A significant number of our processing plant folks are Mexican or Central American. Few U.S. workers apply for these jobs. Those who do don’t stay long. We need Congress to fix the immigration system so it works for our business and the U.S. economy.
Some Republicans in Congress say they want to delay immigration reform. After years of avoiding the issue or resisting change, they say they support an overhaul, just not this year.
Yet business owners need certainty. Most need an ample supply of workers. They need clarity from the government. They need to have confidence they aren’t inadvertently breaking the law just by doing what they need to do to stay in business. The government isn’t giving them the tools or information they need.
After a long downturn, our businesses are growing. Often, we can’t find workers who want the jobs, despite unemployment in our communities. When we find a worker we want to hire, we often can’t be sure that he or she is in the U.S. legally and eligible to work.
Business owners are hesitant to invest. That means less growth and fewer jobs.
Immigration reform being discussed in Washington would address all these uncertainties. It starts with better border security and better immigration enforcement in the workplace. Congress needs to provide us and other employers a reliable way to verify if new hires are who they say they are and are authorized to work.
We need an answer for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Most unauthorized immigrants are law-abiding and do needed work. We should give them a chance to earn their way onto the right side of the law.
Most important for us and our business, immigration reform must create a way to hire workers legally in years to come as our business expands.
We work hard to recruit American workers. We pay above minimum wage. Today’s workers are more educated than in the past. They have options. When there aren’t enough willing and able Americans, we turn to foreign workers.
But there is no legal way for less-skilled foreigners without family in the U.S. to enter the country and work in year-round jobs — no temporary or permanent work visas, except for seasonal jobs. We need a new worker visa program. Employers should have to try to hire Americans first. They should have to pay decent wages. If they can’t find enough U.S. workers, they should be able to hire foreign workers quickly, easily and legally.
We need border security, workplace enforcement and a way for needed workers to enter the country legally.
We need Congress to act.
Tom Hensley is president of Fieldale Corp.
America seems to have a labor surplus
By Dan Stein
America has many problems that need to be addressed. A shortage of workers is not one of them.
A glance at U.S. employment data provides all the evidence one would need to conclude we have a surplus of labor. Unemployment remains stubbornly high. Labor force participation rates are the lowest in more than 30 years. Real wages for most American workers have been stagnant or declining for decades. The picture is even bleaker for younger workers just entering their working years. Half of all officially unemployed U.S. workers are under 35.
There is little hope that these realities are likely to change any time soon. Despite the dismal employment picture, the United States continues to absorb more than a million new legal immigrants each year. We continue to admit large numbers of guest workers, and some 8 million U.S. jobs are occupied by illegal aliens. Still, business interests clamor for even greater access to foreign workers.
In a nation where 37 percent of working-age adults are outside the labor force, the problem is not a dearth of workers. Rather, it is a sense among many businesses that if Americans are not prepared to accept jobs at the wages and working conditions that are being offered, those businesses should be able to seek workers from elsewhere.
For generations, the agricultural industry has relied on foreign, often illegal, workers who accept low-wage jobs. In recent years, these attitudes have taken root in other sectors of our economy.
Yielding to business demands for greater access to foreign labor would only further undermine the interests of embattled American workers. Such policies would also create powerful disincentives for cheap labor-intensive industries, like agriculture, to invest in mechanization. Many jobs now performed by heavily subsidized immigrant labor in the U.S. are being done in other countries more efficiently and cost effectively by machines.
As Bill Gates predicted in a recent panel discussion, technology “will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of the skill set,” and will do so in the very near future. In essence, however, what agricultural and other business interests are demanding is that the United States double down on an economic model that’s doomed to extinction.
A smarter immigration policy would allow us to select a limited numbers of new immigrants who can best help the country succeed in the economy of the future, in place of our current family chain migration system. We need effective laws to discourage illegal immigration and the political will to enforce them. Instead of flooding our labor markets, we need immigration policies that allow us to integrate the millions of idle workers already here into productive jobs.
Unfortunately, that is not the sort of immigration reform being pushed by the business lobby or what is under consideration in Washington.
Dan Stein is president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
By Arturo Corso
People always tell me they have “nothing personal against Hispanics” like me, “they just need to come here legally.” For most Mexican immigrants, there is no legal way.
U.S. immigration policy has largely been based on one of two pathways: specialized employment, or family unification. If we need a particular immigrant to do a particularly skilled job, you’re welcome to come; and if you already have an immediate family member lawfully residing here, you can come, too. Yet there’s always a catch. For employment-based visas, a prospective employer must prove it looked all over the country and couldn’t find a U.S. citizen qualified to do the job. For family based visas, you must stay in your country, and the line to process your application can be up to 25 years long. If you break in line, you are barred for life. So Mexicans are out of luck.
There are other less well-known avenues to immigrate to the U.S. If you are willing to invest $1 million in a majority American-owned business, we will take you. If you can throw a 90 mph fast ball, we will take you. If you come from a communist country and we can politically embarrass a dictator by taking you, we will take you. If you look like the Swedish bikini team, we will take you.
You read that right. There is an annual “diversity lottery” that awards visas to foreign nationals we would like to see more of. Countries that have had 50,000 people come in the previous five years are disqualified. Mexico is a disqualified country and always has been. The U.S. policy is, “We don’t need any more Mexicans.”
Mexico has always had a large number of people who want to come to America. Their reasons are like the stars. The jobs. The economy. The safety. The wealth. The opportunities. The freedom. The beauty. The list is endless. But the legal pathway to residence for Mexicans is almost non-existent. Beset on all sides by corruption, violence, poverty and drugs, is it any wonder Mexican nationals flee across the border to the safety of our cities and towns?
We should welcome them. After all, they flee circumstances we created with our demand for drugs. They come to serve the economy we created with our demand for cheap labor. They keep our children, clean our houses and tend our gardens. They pick our crops, run restaurants and build houses. They make carpeting and process poultry. They do the jobs we won’t do. They love America. The taxes they pay fund schools and keep Social Security solvent.
We could make Georgia rich, culturally and financially, if we simply issue state driver’s licenses and work authorization permits. Bring these brothers and sisters of ours out of the malevolent shadows and into the warmth of a Christian embrace.
Arturo Corso is a Gainesville attorney.