Todd Staples: Fixing immigration will boost workforce

By Todd Staples

Real reform will offer more security, build reliable labor pool.

No one needs a deal on immigration, workforce and border security more than landowners along the rural stretches of our southern border. Notice, I didn’t write wants – I wrote needs.

Why? Because these farmers and ranchers are constant victims of treacherous drug cartels’ criminal actions and illegal trespassing. If we have a legitimate system for people to enter our country legally, law enforcement can do what they do best: Protect the public from transnational criminal organizations that have no regard for human life and blatantly violate our nation’s sovereignty, rather than tie up valuable resources to chase down individuals crossing our borders to find work.

There is a better way. But, after reviewing reports announcing the results of negotiations between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and AFL-CIO, here is my initial reaction: No deal is better than a bad deal.

While I am not certain how the “prevailing wage” mechanism will function (code talk to bureaucratically subvert job growth and extend tentacles in right-to-work states), the ridiculously low number of visas being offered is a joke. Here’s why.

We are a nation with a labor force of 154 million. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection‘s most recent estimates, 365,000 individuals seeking illegal entry were apprehended during the 2012 fiscal year. However, some assessments point out 55 to 75 percent of those illegally crossing the border are not apprehended, which means as many as 1.4 million people sought illegal entry.

Let’s say only 500,000 people made it through unlawfully. Who thinks this new temporary visa system will solve our problems? It calls for 20,000 visas in the first year and increases to 75,000 in four years. On top of that, our rebounding construction industry would be further regulated to 33 percent of these visas with a maximum of 15,000.

Unions are pushing policies that will kill much-needed reforms by insisting on extending a failed system similar to today’s ag worker visas, that our own federal government acknowledges isn’t doing the job.

We cannot use 20th century reasoning to solve 21st century problems. Without question, any American who wants a job should be first in line to get the job, but the lines are not forming. Labor unions cannot micromanage the labor force without creating shadow economies that circumvent the antiquated policies these unions are so keen to support.

Let’s take real action to prevent the underground economies that truly undermines – yes, cheats – American labor and eliminate an environment open to abuse for the individuals trapped within.

The reality is 11 to 20 million people are in this country illegally not because we were a few thousand off on the number of visas offered. They came here looking for employment and an arbitrarily small number of visas will not stop the workforce flow.

Immigrants add strength to an expanding economy, and I welcome them. Citizens pledge allegiance to a way of life and to a constitution. Even our own children, citizens born in the United States, do not have the right to vote until they are 18 years old, have been taught about the sacrifices made for this country and have been educated about why we chose a free enterprise system as opposed to socialism or communism.

Citizenship is not a consolation prize, and Americans of all backgrounds should be weary of flippant politicians who bandy citizenship about as a bargaining chip on a poker table. We must be a nation that is both pro-legal immigration and naturalization, yet any immigration deal we support must not communicate or suggest we are rewarding unlawful behavior.

Let’s be clear: We cannot agree to a deal that repeats errors of the past. Union demands to continue using the same failed logic and methodology as the past 50 years doesn’t help the national cause nor does it help their members. Policies that restrict our labor force only create illegal ones.

Policies that create uncertainties in securing a reliable labor force move domestic jobs outside our borders. Let us fix our broken immigration system so that we can all walk down the path of success together and ensure our landowners along the border, all American citizens and immigrants from around the world can live together, lawfully, in a nation full of opportunity for all people who choose to abide by our laws.

Staples is Texas agriculture commissioner.

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