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Terrence O’Keefe, WATT’s content director, provides his perspective on everything from animal agriculture trends that impact our food chain to food-safety related issues affecting chicken and egg production. O’Keefe has covered the poultry industry as an editor for more than a decade and also brings his experience in plant management and poultry production to comment on today’s issues.

Will immigration reform include future worker provision?

February 22, 2013

Immigration was a “third rail” issue in Washington between 2007 and 2012, according to Tamar Jacoby, president and CEO, Immigration Works USA, a group representing the views of business owners regarding immigration. 

“Now people are falling all over themselves to get involved,” she said. “Momentum is building about immigration reform, but there is chaos.” Jacoby, who spoke at the National Turkey Federation annual convention, said that several different groups of legislators and the White house are working on their own versions of an immigration reform bill. 

Three immigration reform questions

There are three important questions that Jacoby has regarding immigration reform legislation

1. Will the legislation be comprehensive or will it be done piecemeal? She said that most people would guess that the legislation will be comprehensive in nature, but she isn’t sure if that will be the case, even though she thinks that it should be comprehensive. 

2. What will the legislation do with the estimated 11 million illegal aliens currently residing in the US? Will these individuals be granted legal status only or will they also be offered a path to citizenship?

3. How will we fix the immigration system so it works for the future?  How do we create a system so people don’t have to come illegally in the future, both highly skilled workers and low skilled workers? 

Jacoby then made her case for why the US needs an immigration system that will allow workers to come to this country to fill jobs that are both highly technical in nature, such as software engineers, and low-skilled jobs, for the hospitality, nursing home and meat processing industries. 

“In 1960 half of US born men were high school drop outs, now less than 10 percent of US born men are high school dropouts,” she said. Then she asked where will the workers come from to do jobs that our more highly educated citizenry may not want to do?

Future worker provision

Jacoby said that there is currently no way to come to the US legally if you are unskilled. She expressed the opinion that federal and state enforcement of immigration law will get tougher after a new immigration law is enacted. 

A “future flow or future worker provision” needs to be part of immigration reform, according to Jacoby. She said that many members of Congress, particularly republicans, are reluctant to discuss a “future worker provision” and that unions are trying to limit this as much as possible. She said that employers, like poultry company executives, need to speak to their representatives in Congress to make sure they know they have “cover on this issue.” 

Labor has been told by democrats that a future worker provision has to be part of the bill, according to Jacoby, so republicans, with the backing of business, may be able to come up with a guest worker program that covers year-round workers and these individuals might be allowed to stay. 

Jacoby said that the chances are better than at any time in the last 10 years to get something done about immigration reform. She worries that Congress might get the future worker provision piece wrong or not do it at all.

If Congress does enact comprehensive immigration reform that includes a robust guest worker program, I don’t think it will provide a long-term solution for the shortage of eager applicants for jobs in poultry plants and on poultry farms. The birth rate in Mexico has fallen from over 7 births per female down to near the replacement level of 2.1. today, and other countries that have seen similar drops in their birth rates have experienced dramatic declines in the number of their citizens that emigrate. 

Poultry companies would be advised to start planning more automation regardless of  what happens with immigration legislation.

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