There’s no easy answer to immigration reform, but it’s an issue that must be addressed for the sake of the nation.
That’s the consensus of many within the construction and glass industries following the recent unveiling of the House Republican plan to tackle the controversial issue with its own legislation this year. Announced at a recent GOP congressional retreat, the guidelines have renewed the heated debate from all sides about what is the proper course of action for dealing with the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in this country.
The issue is especially timely in the construction and glass industries, which have reported growing difficulties in finding qualified workers.
“The fact that House Republicans have decided to make immigration reform a top priority for the year is a sign that they appreciate that addressing this issue is crucial to our overall economic vitality,” says Stephen E. Sandherr, the CEO of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). “For too long, the federal government’s broken and dysfunctional approach to immigration abdicated the responsibility of enforcement to employers.”
The Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) also welcomed the news.
“We congratulate the House Republicans for taking this important step towards fixing our broken immigration system in the United States,” says Geoff Burr, ABC’s vice president of government affairs. “As this push towards reform continues, we look forward to working with both the House and Senate on developing proposals that meet the needs of the construction industry.”
The controversial issue is expected to become even more divisive as Republicans look to transform their proposed guidelines into actual legislation that will need bi-partisan support to pass.
None of the legislation introduced by House leaders deals with what to do about immigrants living illegally in the United States. According to their plan, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children and who meet certain eligibility requirements can become legal residents and citizens.
However, the Republicans leaders insist that there should be no “special path to citizenship” for their parents or any undocumented immigrant adults who entered the United States illegally or overstayed visas.
They could earn legal status and stay in the United States if they “admit their culpability, pass rigorous background checks, pay significant fines and back taxes, develop proficiency in English and American civics, and (are) able to support themselves and their families (without access to public benefits).”
GOP leaders have also said that they will not consider the comprehensive immigration-reform bill passed by the Senate in June. The Senate bill, which included a 13-year pathway to citizenship, stalled in the House.
Democrats strongly support a pathway to citizenship for most undocumented immigrants, including those who came here as adults. Some Democrats have insisted that they won’t support any legislation that permanently bars undocumented immigrants from becoming citizens.
Jerry Wright, president of the Texas Glass Association, says the hiring of illegal immigrants isn’t as prevalent among Texas glaziers as it used to be, but concedes that it still happens and does “muddy the waters a lot more.”
Wright says no remedy will be perfect to everybody, but is adamant that something must be done.
“Like it or not, we’re going to have to resolve it,” he says. “The immigrants –legal or illegal – aren’t going to go home.”
While a hot-button issue among a growing Hispanic population and one that figures key to GOP chances to regain the White House in 2016, the issue of immigration reform will likely carry considerably less weight for GOP House members, many of whose gerrymandered districts are overwhelmingly white.
“Desperately-needed immigration reform should make it easier for well-intentioned employers to comply,” Sandherr says, “while providing new opportunity for countless thousands of hard-working men and women eager to help build a stronger future for our country.”