Advocating for Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Efforts by the US Congress for comprehensive reform have come up short in recent history. In 2008, the House of Representatives passed a comprehensive bill, but the Senate failed to bring a bill to the floor for debate. President Bush tried to push forward a “no-match” regulation through the Department of Homeland Security, which would have required employers to turn in employee social security numbers to the Social Security Administration. In turn, employers would receive a no-match letter for any discrepancies between the social security number provided by an employee and Social Security Administration records. This process also included terminating employees, if the discrepancy could not be resolved within 90 days. These rules were thrown out by a federal court in California. Last year the US Senate passed a Comprehensive bill but this time the House is not acting. In the past few years, there have been many state laws and local ballot measures, all trying to address one certain piece of immigration reform, adding complications to the issue.
Some in Congress want to pass stand-alone immigration bills, specifically targeting employers who hire undocumented workers. The DHS has discussed increasing fines for immigration-related hiring and paperwork violations, and requiring businesses with federal government contracts to use the “E-Verify” electronic system to verify employees’ legal right to work.
The US immigration system doesn’t reflect America’s need for workers. Our economy provided more than 134 million jobs last year, yet the government makes only 10,000 green cards available for service-industry workers each year. Over the next decade, the number of jobs in the foodservice business alone will grow one and a half times as fast as the US labor force. At the same time, the number of 16 to 24 year-olds in the labor force — half the restaurant industry’s workforce — will not grow at all.
Congress’ approach must be comprehensive. There’s only one way to facilitate a sustainable workforce for the American economy while ensuring our national security and prosperity. Congress must pass comprehensive legislation that does four things: strengthen border security, establish a workable program to verify job applicants’ legal status, create a temporary-worker program to meet labor demands when there aren’t enough U.S. workers, and develop a plan to address the roughly 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States with over 175,000 in Oregon alone – which is 10 percent of the Oregon workforce.
Targeting the nation’s employers is not the answer. While the government claims stepped-up enforcement through no-match letters will discourage future illegal immigration across our nation’s borders, in reality, all they are doing is eliminating a sizeable portion of the workforce without providing any legal avenue to hire foreign-born workers to do jobs that Americans are no longer taking. We encourage the White House and members of Congress to view employers as partners in economic growth and job creation instead of as adversaries in the immigration debate.
Employers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Because of Congress’s failure to act comprehensively, states and localities are passing their own immigration laws — some that conflict with federal requirements, others that go far beyond federal requirements. Confused and frustrated employers face a sea of changing and conflicting requirements. The Department of Homeland Security’s no-match regulations add one more element of confusion.
The Oregon Restaurant & Lodging Association is opposed to random, individual pieces of immigration reform and supports Congress working together on a national level to enact comprehensive immigration reform. The E-verify system should be included in the overall reform discussions, however, to choose E-verify as a standalone solution is poor economic policy. ORLA is also opposed to any state and local laws due to the fact they cannot affect worker supply or border security, which only compounds the problem and does nothing to solve the problem. Local and State officials are encouraged to join the broad coalitions like Coalition for a Working Oregon to try and get Congress to act now.