Immigration reform and agriculture is a topic I feel qualified to write about. That’s because my opinion on the subject, like that of most folks, is ever-evolving. In fact, my position is similar to that of agriculture in general, which truly doesn’t have a fixed position on immigration reform.
That’s not to say there isn’t some broad agreement on immigration among everyone. After all, we all know the current system is broken and, if not corrected, will only continue to grow much worse. But it’s an issue that’s important to agriculture because agriculture  employs a high percentage of immigrant labor, either as seasonal or full time employees. In fact, labor and labor availability tend to be among the top five concerns among most folks in the livestock industry in particular.
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Yes, I think most everyone holds the contrasting views that immigration  is a good thing, but illegal immigration is a problem. Immigrants tend to fill two types of positions – highly skilled technical positions or lower-paid jobs that are difficult to fill. We need both, but we also need a system to manage it.
This week, a coalition of CEOs sent a letter to Congress trying to spur it into action on the issue. They’re asking for improved border security, better enforcement of current laws, and better methods to verify workers and worker eligibility.
They also want legal ways for workers to enter and work in the U.S. They want to hire Americans first, but also want an avenue to hire foreign workers when they can’t find American workers.
It’s ironic that the number of job openings increased yet again last month, at the same time that the percentage of employable Americans  continues to fall to historically low levels. Such record unemployment and unfilled jobs point to larger societal problems that need to be addressed.
The immigration problem isn’t going away. In fact, it’s growing in magnitude and scope daily. After witnessing how our elected leaders have lacked the courage to rein in entitlement spending, I don’t hold much hope that they will tackle this problem, either. Eventually, that lack of action will allow both issues to consume us.
Immigration reform is a political land mine. Each political party is vying for the growing Hispanic vote, while walking the high wire of not angering middle-class America, which is bearing the brunt of the failure of our current immigration system.
In fact, the political  realities of immigration reform are far more difficult to navigate than immigration reform itself. Political parties and politicians are convinced that immigration reform can easily become political suicide. Sadly, they’re right. Agriculture has a dog in this hunt, and it’s time we step forward and become part of the solution . In 20 years, we’ll have much fewer and less desirable options.
The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.
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