Let’s face it, the debate over immigration is not going away, no matter who occupies the big chair in the Oval Office.
An immigration-related dispute managed to provoke the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history, a costly event that may be repeated in a few days, unless President Trump and a divided Congress can somehow manage to find some agreeable common ground.
The president has vowed to continue his push against illegal immigration, while tightening this nation’s immigration policies in general. At the same time, Trump has acknowledged that the United States needs to encourage talented and highly-skilled foreign workers, most likely through improved federal work-visa programs.
One could argue that such programs already exist, but because of red tape and recalcitrance on the part of some business owners, the programs really aren’t doing what they were designed to do.
Some readers may wonder just how important those foreign workers are. Here’s a hint — nearly 34 percent of California’s work force is foreign born, and those workers contribute greatly to this state’s economic health. When it comes to the level of contribution of foreign-born workers, California is No. 1 in the nation, and it’s not even close.
The demographic for California is a vivid contrast. High-technology centers such as Silicon Valley are loaded with educated, highly-skilled foreign-born workers. The contrast is that the other prevalent foreign-born group can be found in the agriculture industry, the men and women we see almost daily working the fields of North County.
We can’t speak for the foreign-born engineers and software geniuses in Silicon Valley, but we can say with some confidence that growers here on the Central Coast desperately need those foreign-born workers we see in the fields. And lately, getting a full crew together for harvest has been difficult.
Trump’s get-tough stance on illegal immigration has a lot to do with that, but he can hardly be blamed for the labor shortfall. Crossing the border illegally is, after all, breaking our laws. Mexico’s improving economy is also compelling Mexican citizens to stay home to work, rather than traveling north.
But one of the reasons there are more jobs in Mexico is because U.S. companies have been sending their manufacturing and assembly operations down there, at the expense of U.S. workers.
Those are technical explanations for why fewer workers are crossing the border to work in local fields. The bottom line is that local growers are having a hard time finding workers, which encourages growers to consider using machines instead of human field hands. Maybe we’re old fashioned, but envisioning a field full of robots is creepy.
Seeing humans is far better, but if that is going to happen, our elected leaders in Washington will need to formulate some kind of viable visiting-worker program that doesn’t tie up growers in a mountain of red tape, which is what existing work visa programs seem to be doing.
Putting America first is an admirable objective, but in order to accomplish such a goal, America will continue to need help from foreign-born workers, both of the highly-skilled and/or highly-motivated type. This nation simply cannot afford to close the door to immigrants so tightly that they take their skills and motivation elsewhere.
Along with the infrastructure repair we wrote about the other day, cogent immigration policy is another of the nation’s vital needs. If we want our economy to prosper, we will need help. It’s no more complicated than that.