Immigration Reform--Yes!

This country needs immigrants for its economic well-being.

You've heard lots of opinions on immigration reform, so humor me and read one more.

There's no question for the need to reform laws and procedures that allow immigrants to legally come to this country and pursue their dreams for a better life. The freedom to do so is what makes the United States a great country.

Now I'm not going to pretend to know what the final Immigration Reform Bill should be, but the bottom line is clear — this country needs immigrants for its economic well-being.

Visit any paving project and you will find Hispanic equipment operators and laborers performing the necessary work to build and maintain the good roads we take for granted. Finding qualified workers is not a unique challenge to the asphalt industry. Many industries across the country constantly face the challenge of attracting, training and retaining a reliable workforce. The trades have had a difficult time recruiting young workers, who seem less interested in pursuing a career in a profession that many consider dirty and hard. They seem more inclined to pursue careers involving computer technology or something in an office environment.

So many companies have had no other choice than to recruit workers who just want to make a living, and for newly arrived immigrants or illegal immigrants, it's a living that's far better than what they had in the countries they left behind.

Effective immigration reform is necessary to protect our borders from terrorists, drug dealers, criminals and, yes, illegal immigrants. It's necessary to also make employers accountable for the workers they hire and to punish employers who exploit illegal immigrants by paying them less than what they should pay them. Immigration reform is also necessary to support economic growth, and until the final reform bill can be worked out and phased in, we'll need a temporary worker program that allows immigrants to come to this country to fill the jobs Americans don't want.

The Senate's bill calls for all illegal immigrants who have been in this country for less than two years to be returned to their home countries. Those who have been here two to five years would be allowed to stay and work for another three years under a deferred mandatory departure provision. Illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for five years or longer would be eligible for legal residency and eventual citizenship.

The House version, which passed last December, only dealt with strengthening border control and workplace enforcement. The bill is now being discussed by the House-Senate Conference Committee. Let's hope the final version eliminates the need for immigrants to put their lives at risk by sneaking across the border. Most immigrants, legal and illegal, only want the opportunity to pursue the American dream. The asphalt industry relies on them, as does the overall economic vitality of our country.

Greg Udelhofen, Editor