Immigration panelists call for guest worker plan

Immigration panelImmigration panelAn immigration panel meeting in Fresno on Tuesday called for establishing a guest worker plan before enforcing an E-Verify system that farmers complain does not guarantee an adequate workforce.

E-Verify is an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee’s form I-9 to government records to confirm employment eligibility.

Jeff Lungren, director of Congressional and Public Affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Don Riding, retired officer in charge of the Fresno Immigration and Naturalization Service, and Manuel Cunha, president of the Nisei Farmers League served as panelists for a Valley Business Conference immigration roundtable presented by the Fresno Chamber of Commerce.

Lungren spoke to the audience by phone.

Lungren said any guest worker system that is setup must meet the needs of all employers, no matter what industry they are in.

E-Verify by itself is not workable, Cunha said. “You must have a guest worker program designed to where those who are here illegally, can have a change to be legal,” he said.

Once guest workers are recorded, then E-Verify can be used to weed out workers who do not have green or blue cards issued under a guest worker program. Cunha favors the Feinstein-developed AgJobs plan for legalizing seasonal workers.

“I will never trust Congress until there is a guest worker program implemented first,” Cunha said. “But you give us what we have to have, then we will in five years go into E-Verify.”

Cunha criticized the current long timeline in getting in line and pathway for a worker to become legal.

“It’s criminal for a person to wait 17 years to get their citizenship,” Cunha said.

He said it is time for Congress -- the Senate and the House -- to turn the record-keeping process over to Apple (the computer giant). “They have the technology and computerization for getting things done,” Cunha said.

He accused government technology of being out of date.

Lungren said the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is in agreement on establishing a guest worker program before insisting on E-Verify. He added that President Obama has not talked about including a guest worker program in immigration reform.

Riding said the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Service could find the work status of an immigrant by visiting a Social Security office and providing a social security number. “Then Congress passed a couple of laws that made it illegal for government agencies to talk to each other,” Riding said. “We can no longer do it.”

Also the Internal Revenue Service has information it does not pass on to immigration authorities, he said.

Riding added that enforcing the border is partially a red herring. “Years ago, illegal aliens went back to Mexico for Christmas,” he said. “The San Diego Border Patrol would get its December statistics by stopping the southbound buses.”

He continued, “There are so many Border Patrol Agents today, it is extremely difficult to cross the border illegally.”

“Illegal aliens don’t go home for Christmas anymore,” Riding added.

He compared the U.S.-Mexico border to the former wall in Berlin where only a few people were able to get across because of machine guns and barbed wire. “Is that what we want our Mexican border to be? Riding asked. “I don’t think so.”

“If you say we’ll never have ag jobs until the border is secure, then we will never have ag jobs,” Riding insisted.

Lungren was then asked if there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Lungren responded that the recent presidential election might have a silver lining. It is in the best interest of both parties to deliver on immigration reform this time, Lungren said.

“However it is not a great time for bridge building and legislating,” he said.

Lungren said it is important for Republicans to address the immigration issue. “Or nationally they are not going to be relevant on a national basis moving forward,” he said.

On the other side, Democrats owe their success on Hispanics and other minorities, Lungren said. “Those groups feel they delivered for the president, so he needs to deliver for them,” he said.