Immigration Reform: No “de facto” amnesty

Moderated by Rick Badie

Chances of an overhaul of the nation’s immigration policy grew dimmer with the defeat of House majority leader Eric Cantor. Business coalitions such as the Georgia Agribusiness Council have called for an immigration reform vote in the House. In June 2013, the Senate passed an immigration overhaul that would include a path to citizenship; it’ s stalled in the House. Today, an agribusiness executive calls the current system a detriment to Georgia farmers. A conservative activist says shoring up a “porous” border should be at the forefront of any new measures.

Farm labor shortage costly to state

By Bryan Tolar

While Georgia’s success in attracting new businesses rightly dominates headlines, our oldest and largest industry – agriculture – struggles to find a workforce to fuel its $76 billion economic contribution.

Challenges to secure workers who plant, harvest and deliver Georgia farm products to families and businesses have long been daunting. Such worker shortages put popular and locally grown produce industry at risk.

Current federal law provides a guest worker program, known as H-2A, that allows foreign workers to legally enter the U.S. to do farm work. Most Georgia H-2A users are large fruit and vegetable farms. Dairy and nursery operations would also benefit, but they are excluded from the program because their jobs are year-round. The number of these visa workers has grown only slightly. Georgia has lots of small farms that cannot afford the fees, housing and transportation requirements of the program in addition to the minimum wage of $10 per hour.

While some farms cannot afford a federal visa program, doing without a viable workforce is also costly. A study by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development showed that Georgia growers of seven major fruit and vegetable crops lost an estimated $140 million due to the labor shortage in the spring and summer of 2011. These crops had a total farm gate value of more than $670 million. Market prices and input costs are all lost in such a scenario, highlighting the reality that a reliable workforce is critical to the sustainability of these farms.

Recent federal legislative proposals would have met the labor needs of farmers through a “blue card” proposal. The program would not allow for amnesty; it would only allow foreign farm workers to apply for the card if they pay a fine, undergo background checks and prove they have farm work experience. A blue card would certainly not grant citizenship. It would only allow the applicant to legally remain in teh country to do farm work for a limited time.

Influential business leaders nationwide have recognized the negative impact our broken system has had on our economy and call for reform this year. An efficient guest-worker program would address a labor shortage that causes a stress on the state’s largest industry, and would do so without displacing American workers.

Please join us in letting our representatives know you support immigration reform.

Bryan Tolar is president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council.

Address our porous border

By Julianne Thompson

It was President Bill Clinton who used the campaign slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.” A similar slogan could be applied to immigration reform in very simple terminology even Congress can understand: “It’s the border, stupid.” We cannot discuss comprehensive immigration reform and its affect on any industry until the porous, sieve-like border is addressed.

Many industries claim Americans won’t do the work of immigrants, but the fact is those industries want cheap labor and are not willing to pay competitive wages. They complain they will not be able to stay in business paying wages Americans want, but we cannot be in the business of circumventing the legal system because an industry pays substandard wages.

There are those who want to just “ship them back.” This isn’t a practical solution for many reasons. First, deportation does not work until the border is closed. Undocumented immigrants are deported daily by the hundreds and return within days. Second, undocumented immigrants may have U.S. citizen children — those who are automatically citizens because they are born in the United States. Birthright citizenship is a topic that may need to be addressed, but the reality is deportations of families with some documented and/or citizen relatives makes for a messy legal situation.

Unfortunately, politicians are not hearing the outrage from American citizens of all races and ethnic backgrounds. Millions of taxpayer dollars are spent each year in court systems to provide interpreters for immigration cases. Various programs, such as food stamps, are advertised in foreign countries to entice people to enter the U.S — not to work, but to take advantage of a system created for poor and struggling Americans. Most recently, a new program at the federal level provides free legal services to those here illegally at U.S. taxpayer expense.

If you don’t think citizens are outraged, just look to Virginia. Republican House majority leader Eric Cantor was just unseated by economics professor Dave Brat. Cantor spent more than $5 million versus Brat, who spent $123,000. The main reason for the defeat was Cantor’s support for what many consider to be de facto amnesty. Cantor says he is against amnesty, but pushed for comprehensive immigration reform that would result in the same thing. Spanish-language newspapers inside and out of the United States have sounded a call to come and stay because of such talk.

Everyone is terrified to express their opinion for fear of being labeled “anti-immigrant.” The left cannot debate the issue on facts without resorting to name-calling and mudslinging, and that is just ridiculous. We are a nation of laws that apply to all. Address it, but remember where the problem is perpetuating itself and solve that issue first — at the border. Only then can we move on to real solutions that help America return to being the most thriving, vibrant economy in the world.

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