News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Farmers, business don't consider illegals a problem

U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions answered a variety of questions when he met with Daily editors and writers this week. One of the questions was about illegal immigration.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Bud Cramer was fielding questions from area farmers at another meeting at which illegal immigration was one of the topics.

Sen. Sessions, R-Mobile, is probably the most outspoken member of Congress on the issue and a sponsor of building a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border.

The U.S., he said, must secure the border, immigrants must be properly documented and employers must be accountable for hiring those who are illegal.

That's a clear stand on the issue.

But farmers told Mr. Cramer, D-Huntsville, that they depend on immigrant labor to work in cotton gins, nurseries and poultry houses.

Sen. Sessions noted that people from other nations who attempt to enter the country legally find it difficult.

Homeland Security statistics for 2005 confirm his contention. Nearly as many people from Mexico received permanent residence status as from the whole of Europe. Europe's total was 176,569. Mexico's was 157,000.

In all, Homeland Security reported that 1,122,373 immigrants received permanent residence status. Of those, 79,701 came from Africa. Statistics for each country differ based on place of birth and place of last residency.

The farmers told Rep. Cramer immigrants do work that U.S. citizens turn down while taking welfare benefits. Rep. Cramer's response was that the government must get tougher on enforcing existing immigration laws, but he realizes the impact that doing so would have on farm labor.

Sen. Sessions said he agrees with the statement that allowing illegal immigration to flourish is a policy of importing poverty. Certainly the Valley feels the impact of immigrants on public schools and social programs.

The worker shortage isn't simply a matter of getting people off their couch and into paying jobs. The nation has too few available workers to fill all of the labor demands. Thus, immigration is a good thing.

Current policy, however, favors agricultural, construction and service interests, which is wrong because it ignores U.S. law.

Doing nothing about the problem is no solution. Saying, "Y'all come, and stay," isn't one either. One farmer's solution is to open the border to temporary workers when employment is tight and close it when jobless statistics reach a certain point.

Even with that approach, the government must document worker status and rigidly enforce the law, which it isn't doing. And, there is the problem of what to do about the 11 million or so Hispanics who are already here illegally.

Most employers who hire good immigrant workers don't care if they are here legally or simply walked across the border. They won't want to see those workers rounded up and sent home.

Thus, you have the crux of the illegal immigration problem.

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