Immigration bill seen helping businesses, farmers, economy
ST. PAUL — Minnesota businesses would benefit if a U.S. Senate-passed immigration reform law becomes law, U.S. Sen. Al Franken and other bill supporters say.
“It fixes our broken immigration system,” the Democratic Minnesota senator said Monday as he led a group telling reporters about the measure’s benefits.
The bill would provide a pathway for illegal immigrants to become American citizens, which in many cases could take 13 years. About 85,000 undocumented immigrants live in Minnesota.
President Ramon Leon of the Minneapolis-based Latino Economic Development Center said that as immigrants work toward becoming citizens, businesses would pay them more and the immigrants would be more likely to spend money on things ranging from food to houses. The bill, if it becomes law, would give more certainty to businesses, Leon said.
Marianne Peterson, a Pine City dairy farmer, said that about half of her colleagues hire outside help. In places like Willmar, Minn., and Worthington, Minn., that already have strong immigrant communities, she said, more people likely would move from other countries, increasing the labor pool.
Peterson said rural areas especially need workers as people move to cities.
“These are decent jobs,” she said of dairy positions.
Immigrants often are recruited for jobs at the extremes, high tech and manual labor, where there are worker shortages.
Some businesses that could employ immigrants are hesitant because of legal issues and “the current economic climate,” Leon said. The immigration bill could help convince businesses to expand, he added.
Franken said the Congressional Budget Office indicates the bill would help the country’s economy.
While most illegal immigrants would be put on a 13-year path to citizenship, the law would allow some like agriculture workers to become citizens sooner, Franken said.
A provision Franken authored in the bill would help prevent what happened in December of 2006 when federal immigration officials raided a Worthington plant. Undocumented workers were removed from Minnesota, leaving many children, mostly legal residents, without parents.
Franken said the bill would protect children in future raids so they are not separated from parents.
“One second grader in Worthington came home from school to find his 2-year-old brother alone and his parents gone,” Franken told fellow senators last week. “For the next week, he cared for his brother while his grandmother drove from Texas to meet them.”
The bill also would end businesses taking improper advantage of undocumented workers, Franken said.
“They are living in the shadows,” he said of the illegal immigrants. “These people are very easy to exploit.”
The Democratic-controlled Senate bill is not likely to receive a good reception in the GOP-run House. It is unclear if the House will do anything on immigration reform this year, although Democrats point to the fact that the Senate bill passed with considerable Republican support.
Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York predicts the House will bow to political pressure and pass the immigration bill by the end of the year,
Schumer, a member of a bipartisan Senate group that crafted the immigration measure, said House Republicans who vow they will not pass the Senate measure ultimately will be convinced by political concerns about the party’s future.
Senior House Republicans rejected Schumer’s prediction. Republican Speaker John Boehner has said the House will write its own immigration bill rather than bringing up the Senate bill passed on Thursday, which is supported by Democratic President Barack Obama.
Fourteen Senate Republicans joined Senate Democrats in backing a Senate bill that features a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States, an approach vehemently opposed by many conservative House Republicans who view it as rewarding lawbreakers.
Boehner has said an immigration bill will be put to a vote only if a majority of House Republicans back it. Boehner supports a piecemeal approach using smaller, targeted bills rather than the sweeping Senate legislation.
A proposal being talked about in the House as an alternative to the Senate bill would offer possible citizenship in the future after illegal immigrants spend a decade working through a legalized status that gives them work permits.
Prospects of a bill being enacted this year got a boost when Republican Party leaders looked at the results of last November’s elections and saw that their failed presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, won less than 30 percent of the Hispanic-American vote.
Embracing comprehensive immigration reform would give more Hispanics reason to at least consider Republican candidates, the Republican National Committee concluded.
Reuters news service contributed to this story.