The immigration debate has begun in Washington, D.C., and not a moment too soon. It is past time our failed immigration and guest-worker program was fixed.
Too often, “immigration” is used as a bad word. The truth of the matter is, a reliable guest-worker program makes sense for Kansas farmers and ranchers, our communities and our food system.
Farmers and ranchers face a shortage of workers who are willing and able to work on farms and in fields. Most U.S. residents don’t find these jobs attractive; yet for many prospective workers from other countries, these jobs present real economic opportunities.
Immigration is directly responsible for about 8 percent of the Kansas economy. Every job held by an immigrant, on average, equates to nearly one additional job created in the state. Furthermore, Kansans should not fear losing work to immigrants. If every unemployed non-immigrant in our state were to be immediately employed, there would still be roughly 50,000 jobs available.
This state has a long history of utilizing workers from other countries, even other states. Folks from Missouri and Arkansas have helped harvest Kansas wheat since before World War II. A handful of Aussies from “Down Under” have also been known to show up as harvest help.
Workers from Mexico showed up in southwestern Kansas in the ‘50s to help with the fledgling irrigation crops. Shortly after, they became heavily involved in the feedlot and packing industries in this region of our state.
This same minority came to northwestern Kansas where I grew up at the start of the ‘60s. In Sherman and Sheridan counties they hoed weeds in the sugar beet fields.
Today, some workers from South Africa are working the fields of northwestern Kansas and plenty of people from south of the border still provide a needed labor force for the Sunflower State.
It’s past time for this country to figure out a workable immigration policy. One that will benefit our country and those willing to come to these United States and provide valuable labor.
The U.S. Senate is now debating an immigration bill that deals responsibly with our existing workforce, gives farmers and ranchers access to a usable, legal, stable supply of workers and addresses border security and employer enforcement.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office recently released a report stating the Senate’s immigration bill could save our nation up to $197 billion during the next 10 years and an additional $700 billion in the decade to follow. The report also said the legislation would increase real U.S. gross domestic product by 3.3 percent through 2023 due to the influx of new workers.
If Congress can’t fix our broken immigration system, we’ll be forced to import more food and agricultural products from foreign countries. More U.S. and Kansas farmers and ranchers will go out of business, crippling the rural communities that are the backbone of our nation.
As we struggle to pull ourselves out of the Great Recession, can we Americans afford to ignore the economic and social benefits that will come with immigration reform?
Immigration reform is right for the economy, for the business community, and for immigrants who follow us in their hopes for a better life.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.