Immigration Reform Is Too Important to Put Off Another Year

The following, written by Tom Hensley, president of Fieldale Farms, originally ran in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on April 2.  It is also posted on the paper’s Atlanta Forward blog.

We are a chicken producer and processor in northeast Georgia. We have about 4,700 full-time employees and help sustain jobs in a broad range of businesses in the local economy. A significant number of our processing plant folks are Mexican or Central American. Few U.S. workers apply for these jobs. Those who do, don’t stay long. We need Congress to fix the immigration system so it works for our business and the U.S. economy.

Some Republicans in Congress say they want to delay immigration reform. After years of avoiding the issue or resisting change, they say they support an overhaul, just not this year.

Yet business owners need certainty. Most need an ample supply of workers. They need clarity from the government. They need to have confidence they aren’t inadvertently breaking the law just by doing what they need to do to stay in business. The government isn’t giving them the tools or information they need.

After a long downturn, our businesses are growing. Often, we can’t find workers who want the jobs, despite unemployment in our communities. When we find a worker we want to hire, we often can’t be sure that he or she is in the U.S. legally and eligible to work.

Business owners are hesitant to invest. That means less growth and fewer jobs.

Immigration reform being discussed in Washington would address all these uncertainties. It starts with better border security and better immigration enforcement in the workplace. Congress needs to provide us and other employers a reliable way to verify if new hires are who they say they are and are authorized to work.

We need an answer for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Most unauthorized immigrants are law-abiding and do needed work. We should give them a chance to earn their way onto the right side of the law.

Most important for us and our business, immigration reform must create a way to hire workers legally in years to come as our business expands.

We work hard to recruit American workers. We pay above minimum wage. Today’s workers are more educated than in the past. They have options. When there aren’t enough willing and able Americans, we turn to foreign workers.

But there is no legal way for less-skilled foreigners without family in the United States to enter the country and work in year-round jobs–no temporary or permanent work visas, except for seasonal jobs. We need a new worker visa program. Employers should have to try to hire Americans first. They should have to pay decent wages. If they can’t find enough U.S. workers, they should be able to hire foreign workers quickly, easily, and legally.

We need border security, workplace enforcement, and a way for needed workers to enter the country legally.

We need Congress to act.