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April 26, 2006 7:52 AM CDT

Immigration Reform - How Does it Impact You?


For some time now, immigration reform has been a polarizing issue in the United States. The subject draws contentious debate, with politicians and citizens often having to weigh homeland security on one side with businesses having access to a much-needed immigrant workforce on the other. With the 2006 mid-term elections quickly approaching and a presidential race on the horizon, Congress is set to take up the issue of immigration reform, and the results will have a lasting effect on small businesses and the construction industry across the country.

Why is Immigration Reform Important to Mason Contractors?
It is a fact that the construction industry has been growing quickly and will unfortunately face a worker shortage in the near future. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the construction industry needs 250,000 new craftspersons per year to replace an aging and retiring workforce.

Promotion of workforce training, recruitment and outreach to the next generation of American workers is an ongoing and continuous effort and will remain as such. Providing good jobs and good wages to Americans will always be a top priority, and immigration reform will not change this; however, despite efforts to increase the construction industry workforce by bringing young Americans into industry jobs, more needs to be done.

Other options are available to businesses in need of a steady workforce, but these possibilities are also incapable of providing the needed relief. For instance, in the past year there has been an increase in H-2B visas; however, the current H-2B process is cumbersome and bureaucratic.

There is a need for workers in the construction industry, especially for small businesses - a need that is being met with an immigrant workforce. There are an estimated 11 million undocumented workers currently in the United States. With the appropriate reform bill, Congress can create an opportunity for these workers to support themselves and their families legally, while also assisting American businesses in need.

How Will Reform Take Place?
The more significant discussion is not on why immigration reform is needed, but how exactly to implement this reform. No one would argue that comprehensive immigration reform is critical to our country's safety and economic health. Unfortunately, the issue of immigration reform is not cut and dry, and cannot be clearly defined by partisan politics. Despite President Bush's urging for swift and decisive action in January's State of the Union address, the subject of immigration reform has both parties in Congress staunchly divided on the issue of what to do with illegal residents and current guest workers.

In December 2005, the House of Representatives passed a bill that was hotly debated within the Republican Party alone. Introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., this bill does not include a temporary-worker program, establishes criminal penalties for illegal immigrants, and would levy steep fines against businesses that failed to check their employees' immigration status. The House now awaits action by the Senate.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has crafted legislation that merges aspects of the various pieces of legislation introduced in the Senate in order to come up with a comprehensive reform. Specter's bill would create a new temporary-worker program for essential skilled workers, known as H-2C. In addition, the bill would allow illegal immigrants who are present in the United States and working as of January 2004 to apply for a temporary visa that would allow them to work legally and travel internationally. Specter's bill is supported by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.; John Cornyn, R-Texas; John Kyl, R-Ariz.; and Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., who had all sponsored the various pieces of legislation that comprise this bill. The bill is expected to be voted on in the Senate later this month, if not before.

No matter your view on the issue, either in support or opposition, immigration reform will be addressed in some form during this Congressional session and before the mid-term elections in November.

The Mason Contractors Association of America and masonry industry are committed to providing for our nation's security and economic stability by supporting an effective and workable immigration policy that will address our nation's needs and that is fair for the temporary worker, the nation's employers and, most importantly, the American public.

About the Author

Jessica Johnson Bennett was the Director of Government Affairs for MCAA. She has an extensive background in public affairs and government relations. Her expertise in strategic planning, PAC management and operations help on key policy issues.


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