Immigration is a crucial issue to business in general and the food industry in particular. The big growth in foodservice probably wouldn’t be possible without substantial immigration to provide staffing for all those restaurants. And it is said that no industry is as dependent on illegal immigrants as the business of harvesting produce.
There are important philosophical issues at play about what kind of country we want to be and what our obligations are to people who are not part of our country.
There are economic divides between those who focus on building the overall strength of our economy and those who focus on raising wages for specific sub-groups.
There also is a real struggle over how we make immigration compatible with our national security interests in an age of terrorism.
Yet I would say the biggest obstacle to actually passing legislation is the total breakdown of trust that the government will enforce any law that is passed.
Look at how this just stops discussion in its tracks: The produce industry has been pushing for a guest worker program. It is an attempt at compromise between those who want to restrict immigration severely and those who want more open borders.
Guest worker programs have been proven to have many issues. But it is only a compromise at all if those who favor restricting immigration perceive that the guest workers will, in fact, leave the country when the program is done.
And here, our current policies leave more than reasonable doubt on that fact.
A lot of attention has been paid to “protecting our borders” and, indeed, there is a big problem with illegal immigration from Mexico.
But that is not the half of it; you don’t have to be an expert in immigration to know that we have tremendous issue in terms of legal immigrants that overstay their visas.
Many a person could name ten housekeepers or nannies who have overstayed their visas and, in fact, the Department of Homeland Security estimates that people who have overstayed their visas account for one-third of the seven million illegal aliens in the U.S. as of January 2000. And surely if they ever actually secured the border with Mexico so people couldn’t enter illegally, that number of overstays would zoom.
The bottom line is that, right now, nothing happens when an individual overstays his or her visa. No “All Points Bulletin” is issued because someone had a six-month tourist or educational visa and doesn’t show up to leave the country.
What possible reason is there to think that if someone working on a guest worker program doesn’t show up to leave the country that the FBI will hunt him down?
And as long as that trust is not there, it is very hard to get anything enacted.