WASHINGTON, July 9, 2014 – A coalition of leading business, manufacturing, and agriculture groups -- including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Business Roundtable -- – held a “national day of action” Wednesday to pressure Congress and the Obama administration to work together to enact immigration reform.
“We need meaningful immigration reform to revitalize our economy and remain a nation ruled by law, guided by principle, and driven by compassion and common sense,” Chamber President Tom Donohue said at a press conference in Washington. “We’re going to continue to make the case in our nation’s capital and in every corner of this country, and we will use every tool and resource at our disposal,” he said.
Similar events were being in more than 60 congressional districts in 25 states featuring representatives from state and local employer associations and regional farm bureaus. Organizers said the coordinated events were designed to show that across industries, sectors and geographies, the business community needs immigration laws to be modernized.
One of the participants in the Washington news conference was Tom Nassif, president and CEO of Western Growers. The organization represents farmers in California and Arizona who produce about half of the nation’s fresh fruit and produce. Nassif said that while many of the workers his members rely on are undocumented, they are at least willing to do the hard labor in the fields that Americans reject.
“Why won’t our elected officials provide us the means to have a legal, reliable workforce?” he asked. “If no solution is provided, production will continue to move overseas along with the jobs agriculture supports in rural communities across America.”
Nassif said the labor situation has gotten so bad lately that some fruit operations were offering workers $30 an hour to pick strawberries but couldn’t find enough labor.
Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, said one of his member companies, Cargill Inc., faced labor shortages of 10 percent to 40 percent at some of its plants on a daily basis. And John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable and a former Republican governor of Michigan, said dairy operations in the upper Midwest area also facing severe labor shortages. Most Americans “just don’t want to get up early to milk cows,” he said.
John Stineman, with the Partnership for a New American Economy, introduced data from a recent poll of 1,000 likely voters that he said showed high levels of support for immigration reform, even among Republicans.
The survey showed the vast majority of voters believe the system needs fixing, he said, with 86 percent of Republicans in favor of Congress taking action to address the problem. Almost 80 percent of Independents agreed.
Some 72 percent of those surveyed rejected the GOP argument for not acting – that President Obama won’t enforce the law – including two out of three Republicans and 69 percent of Independents.
“In short, two-thirds of voters and 54 percent of Republicans support legal status for undocumented immigrants,” the Partnership said in a news release. Stineman said the results also show that Republicans would rather vote for a presidential candidate in 2016 who is from a party that supports reform (71 percent), than one from a party that opposes it (15 percent).
Hours after the news conference, Obama met with officials in Texas and then urged Congress to quickly approve his request for more than $3.7 billion to deal with the surge of undocumented immigrants – many of them children from Central America – crossing the border from Mexico. His visit to Texas, which included a brief visit with Republican Governor Rick Perry, a potential presidential candidate in 2016, underlined the stalemate with Congress on the border crisis, and on the broader issue of immigration reform.
Republican leaders have so far been skeptical about the president’s request, citing what they say is his poor record on border security.
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