Article by Jeff Stone, Director of Government Relations, Oregon Association of Nurseries
Immigration reform is about obtaining a stable and legal workforce and its effect on the economy. Without a solution, crops rot in the field and U.S. farms fail, hastening our dependence on foreign farms and operations for food, fiber and other natural resources. The failure to enact comprehensive and fair immigration reform threatens to rob America of its rich heritage of opportunity for all.
In May 2006, the President Bush outlined a proposal to increase border security, provide for a guest worker program for jobs, and to properly document and regulate the many undocumented workers currently residing in our country. A hard line on immigration is not only counterproductive to resolving the underpinning issues but proved perilous to candidates. Not a single Republican candidate running on a hard line immigration policy won an open race or unseated an incumbent. Looking back after the mid-term elections, Congress should have listened to the president.
Today, many industries struggle to find enough workers. Construction, hospitality and agriculture need more workers than are currently available. In late November, a Reuters poll reported that 67% of Americans believe undocumented workers should be allowed to become guest workers and eventually, if they choose, US citizens. In the same breath, they also want Congress to tighten the borders. We agree. Without meaningful border security, we understand how a guest worker program can become a slippery slope. Without workers, many industries would be crippled. It is an art and a science and the politics as usual must give way to a visionary policy.
It would be a mistake to read the 2006 mid-term elections as solely a repudiation of the war in Iraq, scandalous congressional members, “Bush Fatigue” or hard-line attitudes toward immigration. There are those who would make that argument. However, with the Democrats having a small majority in the House of Representatives and a razor thin one in the Senate, the political center must emerge and pass the imperfect but politically vetted US Senate version of comprehensive immigration reform.
Why? Republicans bet and lost that an enforcement-only immigration agenda would carry them across the electoral finish line, now it’s time to reconsider that strategy and develop a more inclusive and positive message.
Nothing illustrates best he need for a more positive and constructive message on immigration than a brief notation of several high profile GOP candidates who focused on anti-immigrant messages and lost:
– Rep. Jim Hostettler (R-Indiana) — who chaired the House Subcommittee on Immigration, a 12-year veteran, was defeated by 22 points.
– Rep JD Hayworth (R-Arizona), a recognized cheerleader for anti-immigrant policies, was defeated by 5 points by a state senator.
– Conservative Randy Graf campaigning to replace the seat vacated by Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Arizona) lost by 12 points with his get tough on immigration message.
– Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania), an outspoken voice against comprehensive reform, was defeated by 18 points.
– In Oregon, anti immigrant commercials failed to propel Mike Erickson (District 5) and gubernatorial candidate Ron Saxton to victory.
Clearly public policy has an impact on the economic viability of industry and our society. And, while conservative talk shows fan the fires of fear and the unknown, we must take a sober accounting of the economic dimensions of the immigration issue.
– With the exception of Border States, the net fiscal effect (services used vs. taxes paid) is a wash.
– Undocumented workers contribute an estimated $7 billion to Social Security, which goes mostly unclaimed.
– Companies stay in the United States. Foundational industries remain competitive in a global market place. Heavy employer sanctions will only serve to drive businesses out of Oregon.
– It will cost hundreds of billions of dollars to deport 12 million people who do not want to leave.
For decades, our nation failed to secure its borders. This is not a problem that is recent, rather one that the Congress has side stepped for two decades. As a result, millions of people came to our country seeking jobs and opportunity for themselves and their families. Today, many of these people live and work in Oregon.
These workers are indispensable to Oregon farms. Without their hard work many family farms could not survive. Oregon needs a sensible solution to the immigration problem. Oregon farmers want border security, a stop to illegal immigration and the opportunity to hire willing legal workers. The time is now to work together on immigration to protect and preserve the nation’s foundational industries.