Let’s not quibble over semantics. Our nation’s immigration laws are broken. They remind me of a rusty truck with broken windows, propped up on crumbling cinder blocks in an overgrown back yard. No engine, no tires and out of gas.
By now, I believe everyone agrees our immigration laws are outdated and don’t work. If they did, there would be legal avenues for those who want to come here to work in jobs Americans are unavailable or unwilling to do–at any price. It literally takes years to get a valid visa to work legally in the United States. By keeping America’s front door closed to economic migrants, our lawmakers have left them no choice but to slip through our backdoor. Frankly, our broken immigration system is not good for anyone.
It’s one of the worst-kept secrets: labor-intensive industries like ours have a disproportionate share of workers without proper documentation. Is it the employer’s fault their workers are not legal? Employers are tired of being forced to look over their shoulders for fear of enforcement actions. Yet, this has not stopped the Obama administration from announcing new guidelines directing immigration agents to target employers who hire illegal immigrants rather than simply going after undocumented employees.
These are truly anxious times. I want our border patrol focused on apprehending drug dealers, criminal smugglers, violent gang members and would-be terrorists. Being forced to divert limited resources to catch those whose only “crime” is a genuine desire to work is making us less safe. Let’s face it, most immigrant workers share our American values: individual initiative, freedom and family.
Either our food will be produced by illegal foreign workers here or our food will be produced by foreign workers abroad. I don’t know about you, but I believe food safety and keeping agricultural production in the United States is a national security issue.
It’s time our lawmakers embrace the AgJOBS principles of immigration reform: (1) improvements to the H-2A agriculture guest-worker program; (2) a permanent rise in the annual cap of H-2B guest workers used by landscape firms; and (3) a path by which qualified workers here now can continue to work and contribute to a recovering American economy.
A true guest-worker program can be effective in securing our border. It can relieve the specter of enforcement against employers who genuinely want a legal workforce. Without a guest-worker program, illegal numbers will continue to grow, and that’s not good for anyone.
After six tumultuous years and last November’s political sea change, the AgJOBS legislation is amazingly still intact. With its expansive base of strong grower and worker advocate support, I believe AgJOBS can pass on its own merit or as part of a more comprehensive immigration reform package.
It’s time Congress and the White House do the right thing, in the right way, for all of the right reasons: pass meaningful immigration reform. Let’s tow our old jalopy of immigration laws to the auto body shop for the overhaul employers and workers deserve.