In a press conference last week, President Barack Obama reiterated his commitment to immigration reform, claiming that the Republican’s lack of movement on a flawed immigration system is forcing him to act alone on the heated topic.
President Obama directed the Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to move additional resources to the border to protect the area. The president also directed Secretary Johnson and Attorney General Holder to start to identify additional administrative actions that can be taken to try to fix as much of the immigration system as possible. “If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours,” the president said.
One year ago, the Senate passed an immigration reform bill that the president discussed in the news conference, outlining what he said the bills lack of passage has caused:
• We have fewer resources to strengthen our borders;
• Businesses can still game the system by hiring undocumented workers—which punishes businesses that are playing by the rules and hurts the wages of hardworking Americans;
• The best and brightest who come to study in the United States are still forced to leave, heading over seas and subsequently competing against our workers; and
• Eleven million immigrants are still living in the shadows, instead of having the opportunity to earn their citizenship.
Obama said the bill passed by the Senate last year would strengthen U.S. borders, grow the economy, and shrink the deficit. There are enough Republicans and Democrats who support immigration reform today to pass an immigration reform bill, he believes.
“And Washington would solve a problem in a bipartisan way,” Obama said.
“Their argument seems to be that because the system’s broken, we shouldn’t make an effort to fix it. It makes no sense. It’s not on the level. It’s just politics. Plain and simple,” Obama said.
Obama’s plan brought supporters and opponents from both side of the fence out in droves.
Minors were a key topic during the discussions, with record numbers crossing the border.
“We also hope that as President Obama moves forward with administrative action, he will carefully and humanely address the urgent crisis of unaccompanied immigrant minors,” Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union, and Eliseo Medina, the union’s Secretary Treasurer, said in a statement following the news conference. “Children—from whatever country they may come from—who are fleeing from violence or trying to reunite with their families obliges our country’s leaders to act in the most compassionate and thoughtful way possible.”
Obama mocked House Speaker John Boehner (R- OH), after the speaker brought up lawsuit possibilities.
“So sue me,” Obama said. “I’m not going to apologize for trying to do something.”
Boehner clarified his thoughts in a written statement.
“In our conversation last week, I told the president what I have been telling him for months: the American people and their elected officials don’t trust him to enforce the law as written.
Until that changes, it is going to be difficult to make progress on this issue. The crisis at our southern border reminds us all of the critical importance of fixing our broken immigration system. It is sad and disappointing that—faced with this challenge—President Obama won’t work with us, but is instead intent on going it alone with executive orders that can’t and won’t fix these problems,” he wrote.
“The president’s own executive orders have led directly to the humanitarian crisis along the Southern border, giving false hope to children and their families that if they enter the country illegally they will be allowed to stay. The White House claims it will move to return these children to their families in their home countries, yet additional executive action from this president isn’t going to stem the tide of illegal crossings, it’s only going to make them worse. As the Supreme Court reminded us this week, under our Constitution there are sharp limits to what the president can accomplish if he ignores the American people and their elected representatives,” Boehner wrote.
Despite the conflicts and lack of immigration reform, some producers across the U.S. are still hoping the final decisions will include solutions to growing labor shortages.
Citing billion-dollar losses in agriculture labor shortages, a group of 13 current and past Oklahoma Republican leaders sent a letter to their state’s congressional delegation urging immigration reform.
“The system is broken for farmers who are producing below their capacity when they cannot meet their labor demands. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy (PNAE), labor shortages in the agriculture industry are causing a loss of over $3 billion in GDP and over $1 billion in farm income,” the group wrote.
PNAE’s study detailed how labor shortages have led to an increased amount of reliance on exported produce.
“We farmed close to 350 acres last year,” says Rep. Jeff Wardlaw (D-AR). “And this year we’ll have right at 40 acres due to labor costs and regulations.”
“But the flow of food will never change in the grocery stores,” he added. “That will get filled from outside the country.”
The data released in the study, “No Longer Home Grown: How Labor Shortages are Increasing America’s Reliance on Imported Fresh Produce and Slowing U.S. Economic Growth,” from the Partnership for a New American Economy and the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform, detail their key findings:
• In recent years, the share of fresh fruits and vegetables consumed by American families that was imported has grown by 79.3 percent.
• In America, our production of fresh produce and the demands of consumers are increasingly out of sync. While the amount of fresh produce and vegetables consumed by Americans has grown in recent years, production levels have either barely grown or declined.
• Had U.S. fresh fruit and vegetable growers been able to maintain the domestic market share they held from 1998-2000, their communities would have enjoyed a substantial economic boost, resulting in an estimated $4.9 billion in additional farming income and 89,300 more jobs in 2012 alone. U.S. GDP would have been $12.4 billion higher in 2012.
• Labor challenges faced by U.S. farmers and the inadequacies of the H-2A visa program are a key reason why American farmers have been unable to maintain their share of the domestic market. Labor alone can explain as much as $3.3 billion in missed GDP growth in 2012. It also accounts for $1.4 billion in farm income that wasn’t realized that year.
While the immigration debate continues, one state seems to be taking immigration reform on, on its own. In California, Jan. 1 marked the beginning of a new state law that limits the criteria in which a local law enforcement agency can comply with federal deportation hold requests.
The Trust Act, introduced by state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, (D), was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last October. Under the new law, only those convicted of a serious or violent felony can be subject to deportation hold requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. — Traci Eatherton, WLJ Editor