Immigration reform: A small business perspective

It is a false choice to think the immigration debate is a battle between America being a welcoming society and being a nation of laws. To those intent on building a wall or deporting illegal immigrants I would ask you to consider — it can be both.

Immigration now joins gay marriage and flag burning as mere show issues. One difference, however, is that immigration has real economic and deep public consequences. Caught in the frenzy of midterm elections — we find ourselves here in Wilsonville today.

The Oregon Association of Nurseries and the American Nursery & Landscape Association strongly support immigration reform legislation recently passed by the U.S. Senate.

When the House and Senate move to conference on their respective approaches to immigration policy, we urge passage of a comprehensive immigration bill that achieves three important features:

1. Establishes border security,

2. Provides for an effective guest worker program (to supply much-needed workers for agriculture), and

3. Adjusts the status of undocumented immigrant workers with an established record of work in agriculture.

In our view the Senate approach provides the most complete response to the chaos that is immigration policy by strengthening border security and sensibly addressing the problem of the 11 to 12 million undocumented immigrants now working in the United States. In contrast, passage of HR 4437 would do severe harm to Oregon’s nursery and greenhouse industry.

This whole debate comes down to a couple of items:

1. The issue is one made by the US Government. Had Congress enacted this reform act in 1986, we would have fewer illegal immigrants than we do now.

2. Agriculture is price sensitive. By taking away agriculture’s labor force, you will put farms out of business. They have a hard enough time competing on the global and domestic markets — faced with high transportation costs, increased competition and add to it – a shortage of labor.

3. The politics of fear. We are seeing the impact of fear when several strawberry growers are not getting their berries harvested due to a shortage of workers.

4. The great melting pot. It is my personal view that we should focus our energy on securing our borders, deporting criminal aliens who commit crimes, and open our border up. Pre-1926 law — which produced the sons and daughters labeled our greatest generation.

What we need is a system. One that embraces reality of undocumented workers that are here, one that allows movement between the border to allow workers to see their families, one that acknowledges that this group of workers are filling jobs that Americans do not do.

The temporary worker program is not amnesty. I was around when Amnesty was discussed and frankly it was not a failure of the legalization program — rather the lack of a long-term solution to our farm labor needs. The temporary worker program outlined in the Senate version is not easy. It provides for earned status for qualifying farm workers willing to pay a fine and meet tough conditions. It is not automatic citizenship, and unlike amnesty, if you rob banks or break laws — you are not allowed to stay.

But we are talking about more than jobs of farm workers. The industries that depend on this work force create thousands of jobs — as suppliers, equipment manufacturing, marketing, packaging and processing, transportation, and lending insurance. Many economists tell us that there are 4 jobs created for every farm worker job.

Agriculture in the United States would fail if we did not have an adequate workforce to get product to market. Don’t buy into the fear, the short term political gain, but look at the long-term health of industries, and the greatness that is America.