Vail Daily column: Congress needs to fix immigration system
Ryan Summerlin September 6, 2013
I run a hotel condominium in Vail. We hire 12 to 17 full-time employees during the course of each year, and their employment touches the lives of countless others in our community. We greet over 4,000 tourists at our property annually and their tourist dollars pay for our wages, as well as rental income to our property owners.
The overwhelming majority of our back-of-the house workers — housekeepers and maintenance staff — are Mexican or Central American. Few U.S. citizens apply for these jobs and those who do rarely last more than a few days. Without my immigrant workers, I would have to downsize or even close our hotel operations.
I need Congress to act to fix the immigration system so it works for my business and for the U.S. economy.
There many things that are broken about the immigration system and many things that need to be fixed. We need better border security and better immigration law enforcement. Congress needs to provide businesses with a way to verify if new hires are who they say they are and are eligible to work.
We also need a humane, practical answer for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Most unauthorized immigrants are otherwise law-abiding and doing needed work — work that bolsters U.S. prosperity and sustains jobs for Americans. No one realistically believes we can deport them and their families. We should give them a chance to earn their way onto the right side of the law.
But meaningful reform must look beyond today’s unauthorized immigrants. The heart of reform is fixing the legal immigration system so it works for America in the future, admitting the immigrants we need and preventing future illegal immigration.
I work hard to recruit American workers. We pay well above the minimum wage — between $14 and $20 an hour, and taxes are withheld on all of those wages. But the U.S. labor force has changed dramatically in recent decades. Today’s workers are much more educated than the generation before them. They have other options. And when there aren’t enough willing and able Americans, I turn to foreign workers — often the only answer for a pressing labor shortage.
I know I’m not alone — the hotel sector isn’t unique. Many indispensable U.S. industries — restaurants, construction, cleaning and maintenance, food processing, home health care — rely on less-skilled immigrants. Without this workforce, all these sectors would be severely hobbled and, in some regions, would come close to collapse.
The problem: there is virtually no legal way for less-skilled foreigners without family in the U.S. to enter the country and work in year-round jobs. The two existing temporary worker programs for less-skilled workers are for seasonal labor only — they bring in foreigners to work on farms and at summer and winter resorts. And there are virtually no permanent visas for less-skilled workers who want to settle in the United States.
Congress needs to fill this gap — we need a visa program for less-skilled nonfarm workers. Employers should have to try to hire Americans first, and they should have to pay decent wages. But if they can’t find enough U.S. workers, they should be able to hire foreign workers quickly, easily and legally. Any new program should also respond in real time to changing U.S. labor needs, growing in good years when the economy needs more foreign workers and shrinking in down times when more Americans are out of work.
I need Congress to step up now and create a new visa program — it’s essential for my business. But this issue is much bigger than me or the entire hotel industry.
Without a workable temporary visa program, the nation can have no hope of ending illegal immigration. An overwhelming majority of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. today would rather be here legally. They came and stayed illegally only because there was no lawful way for them to enter the country or change their status after they arrived. Their willingness to relocate themselves and their families and find work is commendable. A simple foreign worker visa system needs to be created so that employers can fill jobs and trust that employee documents are valid. The only way to avoid undocumented aliens attempting to come here again in the future will be better documents and adequate immigration policies.
And if we fail to create a legal way for less-skilled workers to come to the U.S. in the future, in 10 or 20 years we’re going to find ourselves in exactly the same predicament — wondering what to do about a new 11 or 12 or who knows how many million unauthorized immigrants.
Our broken immigration system is not a problem that can be put off. If we don’t create a legal way for less-skilled immigrants to enter the country and work, we won’t restore the rule of law — and will all but guarantee that millions more come to the U.S. illegally in years ahead. The stakes could hardly be higher. We need Congress to act.
Dale Bugby is owner of Vail Resort Rentals Inc.
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