Glass Industry Keeping an Eye on Immigration Reform Effort

Jerry Wright, president and owner of AAA Glass in Fort Worth, Texas, says that the Texas glass industry has already come to terms with the idea of immigration reform and stands ready for whatever form of it eventually becomes the law of the land.

W“We’ve accepted it,” says Wright, who also serves as president of the Texas Glass Association. “It is the way it is. It’s just an unfortunate dilemma our nation is in because we desperately need to have more workers in the workforce. So I don’t like it, but it appears we’ve backed ourselves into a corner and [immigration reform] is probably the only way out of that corner.”

The U.S. Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 last week, but it still has a tough road ahead before ever becoming law. But just the possibility is already the source of much buzz within the glass industry.

Wright estimates that undocumented immigrants comprised as much as 20 percent of Texas’ glass workers with most of them found in the state’s rural areas where enforcement isn’t as stringent.

The potential law’s ripple effect can already be felt in Texas, as many large glass companies are reporting a drop-off in workers worried about possible deportation and stiff fines in the future. Many have quit, leaving the state’s largest glass companies struggling to keep up with demand.

“Everybody I know is looking for help right now,” Wright says.

The Senate passed the politically-risky immigration reform bill last week, one that could eventually offer a path to citizenship to some of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America.

Fourteen Republicans joined the chamber’s 54 Democrats as the measure passed, 68-32. The legislation must still be approved by the Republican-led House of Representatives before President Barack Obama can sign it into law.

The bill addresses undocumented immigrants, legal immigration, border security, employer hiring and an entry-exit system so the government knows if foreign nationals leave the country when their visa expires. The lengthy path to citizenship would likely take 13 years or more, but advocates are thrilled that it exists at all, given the stiff GOP opposition to it in the past.

Dreamers — young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children — would be able to earn green cards in five years, as would some agricultural workers.

The bill adds huge increases in border security, bolstered by an amendment sponsored by Sens. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) that helped bring on board unsure Democrats and Republicans. The amendment would prevent green-card status for undocumented immigrants until the government deploys 20,000 additional border agents, while mandating E-Verify to prevent businesses from hiring unauthorized workers and the completion of a 700-mile border fence and adds to entry-exit systems to track whether foreign nationals overstay their visas.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the legislation would shrink the deficit by nearly $900 billion, minus expenses from the Corker-Hoeven amendment.

Critics, however, argue that the bill is “amnesty” because undocumented immigrants would receive provisional legal status to stay in the U.S. before border and enforcement measures are met. They also allege that the bill won’t ensure those measures will actually be met.

The current form of the legislation is unlikely to garner much support in the Tea Party-driven House of Representatives, but strong public opinion and the bi-partisan Senate support will likely amp up the pressure on the Republicans. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reiterated last week that that he intends for the House to pursue its own immigration reform approach, rather than taking up the Senate bill.

But because most illegal immigrants work in the construction and farming industries, both Walter Scherer, owner of Stuart Glass in south Florida, and Dan Nance of Arizona-based Arrow Glass say that immigration reform was not an issue with their companies. Both men insist that they’re just fine whatever the final outcome.

“Our people are very specialized,” Scherer says.

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