Arizona has done the rest of the country a favor by provoking us to try to finish the business of immigration reform that Congress failed to complete in 2007. Whether or not the Arizona law is found to violate civil rights, comprehensive national reform legislation is the only way to resolve most of the immigration issues. Here is a short list of what needs to be done in the best interests of the construction industry and the U.S.
1) Tougher border security is critical. Walls and barriers by themselves aren’t going to get it done. There has to be a combination of barriers, patrols, proven surveillance technology and stiff penalties for employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers. But as the California Landscape Contractors Association points out, any employer penalties should include safe-harbor language for good-faith mistakes, “particularly if the employer must rely on government-provided data, such as a verification database.”
Reason: National security is vital and so is the need to provide a fair chance for legal immigration for people from all countries.
2) There should be a clear path to legal status—one that is not so easy that all the 11 million to 13 million illegals in the country can meet it. It should include proof of employment, payment of a civil fine and a clean criminal record free of violent felonies.
Reason: Proposals that require undocumented workers to first return to their country of origin before seeking legal reentry are cruel, impractical and unneeded for what are essentially economic refugees who perform essential labor in the U.S.
3) Expand temporary-worker programs.
Reason: The caps should be higher on H-2B and perhaps other worker programs now available to allow more workers to participate and allow employers to tap this source of labor when it is shown that U.S. citizens are unwilling to do all the work.
4) Provide immigrants with mandatory training in their native language about U.S. labor law, especially regarding worker rights, antidiscrimination statutes and rules regarding pay and working conditions. An important part of this training should be the role of unions in protecting unionized workers and advocating for better pay and conditions.
Reason: Both merit-shop construction and union traditions should remain strong in the U.S. Unions set the bar high for fair wages and benefits for construction workers. Merit-shop work keeps construction cost-effective. Informing immigrants about the union option will give unions a chance to organize this new pool of workers.