Speaking With One Voice On Immigration Reform (Opinion)

Robin Siktberg

I am from a family that holds widely divergent political views that are hotly debated at gatherings. My mother was once chairwoman of our county’s Republican committee, and my father cast his first presidential vote for for Franklin Roosevelt. My husband and I have agreed not to put political signs in our yard — ever — because they would just cancel each other out. You get the picture.

So, it was with a great deal of interest that I attended the Society of American Florists (SAF) Congresssional Action Days in March to see government in action. I’d been to Washington before, but only as a bystander, never as a participant. Despite the cliffs and sequesters, I still believe the process works — maybe not as well as we’d like right now, but more than ever, we, as citizens, need to make our voices heard.

The briefings before the event and the side conversations with growers and florists who had traveled long distances at their own expense underscored the importance of the issues for which we were advocating.

In particular, immigration reform is a do-or-die issue, not only for floriculture, but for all of agriculture. Eighty-five percent of the agriculture workforce is foreign-born, and every agricultural job supports three to five other jobs up and down the chain. Not to mention the effect the lack of labor could have on our nation’s food supply.

Grower after grower has said they have tried, and are still trying, to hire American workers, but without success. Jeff Mast, of Banner Greenhouses in Nebo, N.C., told me he placed an ad for workers, and several dozen showed up. The job was explained and those still interested were hired. By the second day only a few of the new employees returned to work, and by the end of the week they were all gone. This, despite better-than-minimum-wage pay and high unemployment in the area. His story is all too typical.

There has to be meaningful reform that allows employers to hire and retain a legally-documented foreign-born workforce. I know I’m preaching to the choir. But we need the choir to keep preaching to the unbelievers and to those who don’t understand the severity of the problem.

The time is ripe. As Bob Williams, president of SAF pointed out, Congress’s approval rating is, at 18 percent, the lowest since 1974, so there does seem to be more incentive to accomplish something. And there has been movement toward a compromise. One of the things that’s been wrong with Washington is that the campaigning never ends. But the good thing is, that means your representatives need your vote. Let them know how they can earn yours.

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