Action on Border Security Bill Would be a Great First Step, but Manufacturers Need a Deal Now

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2/14/2024

Border Security WallBy Kip Eideberg, AEM Senior Vice President of Government and Industry Relations — 

Editor’s Note: This was originally published by The Hill, a top U.S. political website read by the White House and more lawmakers than any other site – vital for policy, politics, and election campaigns. It is being republished here with their permission.

When an immigrant packs up everything and heads to a new country, they are filled with dreams of making a better life not only for themselves but also for their families. With more than 85,000 job openings in the equipment manufacturing industry alone, these dreams are within reach for many.

Unfortunately, the persistent hyperpolarization over immigration puts both their dreams and the future of America’s workforce at risk.

America’s continued economic success—and equipment manufacturers’ ability to remain competitive in the global economy—depends in part on the future of immigration policy. Right now, there simply are not enough Americans to fill all the industry’s open jobs. Our industry’s challenges, and the ripple effects on sectors such as agriculture and construction, will only get worse unless and until Republicans and Democrats in Congress work together not only on border reforms, but also on comprehensive legal immigration solutions.

This issue impacts not just our industry but all aspects of our nation’s workforce. The United States has almost 2 million fewer workers in the labor force today than it did in 2020. These labor shortages have driven the higher consumer prices that American families have experienced over the past several years. Labor shortages also severely restrict American economic growth and competitiveness.

Communities across America’s heartland bear the brunt of these challenges. It is often immigrants and refugees who help sustain rural areas after domestic migration has drawn workers away. The equipment manufacturing industry relies on 2.3 million workers, including hundreds of thousands from states like Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio—and as people continue to move away from these places, the need for skilled labor from immigrants becomes all the more vital.

The problem is the same for our customers. Across the country, American farmers and ranchers are struggling to find people willing to harvest and process the food that feeds our country. At the same time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be an average of about 116,000 job openings for agricultural workers each year through 2032.

The Senate’s bipartisan border security and immigration bill included many positive pieces, and Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) should be applauded for their courageous leadership. This bill is the best chance we have had in years to begin to fix our broken immigration system and secure our border. But that does not make for good politics in an election year. It is no longer Morning in America. That message has no credibility. The only argument that seems to resonate with most lawmakers is, as Dick Gephardt once said“It is near midnight in America, and it is getting darker every minute.”

Americans want to see our elected officials get these reforms across the finish line this year. Polling released late last year by the National Immigration Forum shows that more than 80% of registered voters would support candidates in this year’s election who work to bring order to the border, along with bipartisan, targeted immigration reforms that address labor needs, inflation, and existing foreign-born workers. Candidates running for Congress this year would do well to follow the example of Sens. Lankford, Murphy, and Sinema. They might find that showing some courage and doing something about border security and immigration will be rewarded at the ballot box.

No matter what happens to this bill, it cannot be the end of bipartisan efforts to enact comprehensive immigration reform.

Congress must help us solve our workforce problems. This starts with increasing high-skilled and shop floor-skilled immigration, prioritizing applicants based on workforce demands, and allowing businesses to efficiently hire and keep international students graduating from American universities.

Congress must significantly increase the number of available H-1B visas for current workforce needs, along with reforming H-2A and H-2B programs to ensure greater flexibility for employers and workers and allow for longer-term temporary workers.

Congress must strengthen border security and provide a pathway to legal status for individuals brought to the country illegally as children, including the hundreds of thousands who are already part of the workforce.

With immigration set to be a top issue in the 2024 elections, voters will be paying close attention to what is happening at our border and broken immigration system. Bipartisan negotiations are key to success, but we now need lawmakers to stop playing cynical games and pass actual solutions. Our future depends on it.

For more AEM staff perspectives, subscribe to the AEM Industry Advisor.

 

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