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Letter from Ed: Looking to the Government for Leadership?
Everyone seems to be looking to the government for a solution. But the problem is that even longstanding allies are divided about what is the best possible solution about the issue of illegal immigration.

By Edward C. Brindley
Date Posted: 5/1/2006

For the last few months talk radio and TV shows have often talked about the issue of illegal immigration. Everyone seems to be looking to the government for a solution. But the problem is that even longstanding allies are divided about what is the best possible solution. To make matters worse, many political pundits feel that the immigration issue could hold the key to any major shift in political power in this country. A lot is riding on which party the immigrants decide to support if they become legitimate citizens with a say in the political process.

Should we build a big wall? Sounds kind of crazy to me. Should we put the military on the border to reinforce the National Guard? Should we develop a more expansive guest worker program that will bring many of the illegals out of the shadows? Maybe we should have some kind of amnesty program!

I don’t have a magical answer, but I do know how important this issue is to the pallet and sawmill industries. Many company owners in this industry would tell you that the illegal immigrant issue is the most important issue of the day. No matter what kind of action is taken or not taken, the solution is not going to be easy. One thing we know for certain. It makes no sense at all to think about just sending millions of people back over the border, especially since many companies could not exist without them.

Some people say it is not true that unemployed Americans cannot or will not do the jobs that Hispanics have taken in recent years. I suggest this is a matter of interpretation. I know that our industry relies very heavily on Hispanic workers. This is true in a growing number of cities and states. The immigration issue is no longer important just within the southern states. Pallet companies and sawmills across the country are hiring Hispanics in growing numbers. Company owners seem to be in just about total agreement. They are handling jobs that were difficult to fill, at least difficult to fill with people you can count on to show up and do a good job. It is not simply a matter of paying a good wage, although that can sometimes be a factor.

Much of the trouble finding enough good workers can be blamed on our federal government. A mentality has developed among a large portion of the work force that they are due a comfortable living with strong salaries, but they shouldn’t have to work too hard, certainly not if they are not heavily compensated. Hispanic immigrants have proven to be more likely to work hard and be conscientious about what they do. It is true that many industries would be virtually shut down if we were to suddenly deport millions of Hispanic workers.

I agree in principle that we should not let people into our country who come in illegally; we certainly should not let them in ahead of others who have played according to the rules. On the other hand, the Hispanics involved in this controversy are making a worthwhile contribution to our society.

Confusion is so widespread that even basic data seems to be highly questionable. I have heard many people claim that illegal immigrants are a drain on the treasury. They supposedly use resources, including schools and hospitals, but do not pay taxes into the system to support these government efforts. But pallet people with whom I have spoken indicate that they take taxes, FICA, and Medicare out of immigrant wages. If an illegal immigrant’s contributions cannot be credited to him because of inaccurate information, it appears to me that he pays into the system with a strong chance of never collecting from it. So, one might make an argument that many illegals help subsidize the system, rather than drain it. Again the "truth" seems to vary depending on the sources.

One thing appears to be clear. Before we take any action with those who are here, we need to do something to greatly reduce the flow of more illegal immigrants. It makes no sense to resolve the issue for those who are already here but keep the flood gates open for the problem to persist. It also makes no sense to unnecessarily deport millions of people who are needed to make our economy run.

It seems ironic that our government doesn’t want us to report people when we find they have supplied erroneous information about their legal status. Many friends in our industry have shared with me that in spite of trying to document Hispanic workers, many of those working for them are not legal based on how many identifications come back as having incorrect social security numbers. So, the government may reject a social security number but then it ties the employer’s hands and says that he cannot fire the employee. My sample on this question is limited but it is extensive enough to know that many of the rapidly growing Hispanic population working for our readers is of questionable legality.

In the past, the government has pushed the issue of enforcement onto the backs of the employers while keeping them from actually being able to do anything. That is unfair to everyone in the process. Now is the time for the government to take the lead and be responsible for ensuring the legality of workers while providing a mechanism to help American companies obtain foreign labor when necessary. It is time for politicians to seriously solve problems in spite of political ramifications. Congress must think through the ramifications of the solutions it develops, especially the regulatory and paperwork burden it could put on companies if systems are not structured right.

As we all look to the government for leadership, hopefully our elected officials will rise to the occasion and develop a solution that is not worse than the original problem.








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