Local businesses want immigration reform

2013-08-07T21:29:00Z 2013-08-08T17:43:55Z Local businesses want immigration reformBy Kenneth Lowe | klowe@pantagraph.com pantagraph.com

BLOOMINGTON — Local jobs from farmhand to engineer are being held back by a lack of national immigration reform, local employers said at a panel hosted Wednesday by the McLean County Chamber of Commerce.

The discussion, at the chamber’s headquarters in Bloomington, brought together local business leaders and representatives of groups such as the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition and Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform to hear panelists speak about the local effect of national immigration laws that many called “broken.”

“We hear about how immigration reform will benefit high-tech Silicon Valley companies, but the reality is reform also will benefit large Midwest manufacturing companies like Caterpillar,” said Mark Peters, corporate counsel for Peoria-based Caterpillar Inc.

Peters joined other panelists in calling for a loosening of caps on the number of green cards issued to “high-skilled” workers in the science and engineering fields, a uniform employee verification system across all states and a clear path to citizenship for guest workers.

Caterpillar is at a disadvantage compared to its competitors abroad because of restrictions on the number of foreign workers it can hire under current laws — even as it faces a shortage of qualified American workers, Peters said. Guest workers seeking U.S. citizenship under the current system may wait as long as a decade to be naturalized as their careers stagnate.

“The last time our laws were updated was when Ronald Reagan was president,” said Peters, referring to immigration reform in 1986. “Our technology has changed dramatically, yet our immigration laws have stayed the same.”

Another panelist, Pat Bane, employed seven migrant workers who have since become his entire permanent staff at the Bane Family Pork Farm, a swine farm he owns near Arrowsmith. He called for a guest worker program for farm workers through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He pays some of his workers as much as $17 an hour for jobs he says require skill and patience.

“The United States is the envy of the world when it comes to producing food,” Bane said. “We have the climate, soil, infrastructure, financing. It would be a shame if we didn’t have the resources in labor that we need.”

The question can’t just be one of economics, either, added panelist the Rev. Anthony Lee, pastor at Holy Trinity Catholic Church and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, both in Bloomington. Reform would prevent the victimization of illeagal immigrants who feel unable to go to police for help because of their legal status.

“It is a question of human dignity,” Lee said. “We can look at numbers and statistics, but we can forget that these people we’re talking about have families.”

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(15) Comments

  1. Chadwick Snow
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    Chadwick Snow - August 08, 2013 7:55 pm
    Employing the A+ immigrant engineer over the C student is opting for quality. There aren't enough A+ engineers to go around, that's the point and that was stressed by the Caterpillar panelist. The purpose of the economy is not to benefit U.S. citizens but, rather, it provides a level playing field for all businesses to compete and enhance their shareholders' worth. Read Milton Freeman sometime. So, your theory here is flawed. If Caterpillar falters due to inadequate engineers and is not competitive worldwide, then they employ fewer people - that's how it works. Not some artificial barrier to foreign workers. You want protectionism and are likely a huge supporter of tariffs.

    No one steals a job, they earn it. U.S. immigration laws require those on a visa to earn the prevailing wage for those professions, so your argument of cheap labor is hollow. What you're arguing for is a convoluted form of affirmative action, except you want no competition from those born overseas. I want the best and the brightest to come here and become citizens.

    Railroad workers were unskilled??? Nonsense, many immigrated from Europe and worked in factories to design and build locomotives and design railroad tracks, and switches because of their vast experience and expertise. Europe was way ahead of the U.S. in its railroad system and,, in fact, still is. They were the engineers of the 19th Century. If you knew anything about our local history, you'd know that many Hungarian-Americans who immigrated to Bloomington were such skilled workers.and not ditch diggers or spike drivers.
  2. Ted Kennedy's Swim Instructor
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    Ted Kennedy's Swim Instructor - August 08, 2013 7:19 pm
    No kidding. No less than the CEO of Caterpillar has published open letters about how terrible the business climate is in Illinois, detailing how it would be terribly irresponsible of him to invest more in Illinois because it isn't the best outcome for the company shareholders and for the company employees.

    Companies function best with stable & predictable business climate. What have they seen in the past few years in Illinois? Businesses (and individuals) saddled with a huge income tax increase that is "temporary" only until the Elite Liberal Ruling Class will fail to surprise us by making it permanent. So businesses can look at what has been done before, look at the huge backlog of unfunded liabilities, look at the Deep Blue color the political map is, and predict the future: rather than cut benefits the taxes will continue to rise. So if nearly any large business can make their operations easily mobile to move to greener pastures (Texas is a big one) then what possible future do we have with the outcome we can easily predict?
  3. Ted Kennedy's Swim Instructor
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    Ted Kennedy's Swim Instructor - August 08, 2013 7:10 pm
    Bureaucratic regulation?! THAT IS THE BASIS OF THE US ECONOMY EMPLOYING/BENEFITTING US CITIZENS, not some dumb rule that we should just toss to the side! That is a darn good reason that US workplaces are required to hire US citizens first. Exactly what you describe as desirable is the quasi-mythical "Immigrants stealing our jobs!" situations that US citizens shouldn't have to face. Your hypothetical of Caterpillar being forced to hire a C student is a laugh maybe Caterpillar should be recruiting the A+ students with competitive pay & benefit packages? If Caterpillar can't or won't do that, what you advocate (keeping an immigrant engineer instead of the C student) exactly describes the scenario of IMPORTING CHEAP LABOR if the Big C won't pay for the A+ student!

    And the 19th Century era of railroad building wasn't skilled labor of any kind. Many of my ancestors/countrymen came to the US from Ireland to work the railroad. THEY WERE DITCH DIGGERS or SPIKE DRIVERS, not skilled labor! Out West, why don't you read a little deeper into the history books to see the slavery conditions that was the result of importing Chinese labor to take advantage of them. And the US economy is no longer based upon ditch diggers willing to lift a shovel for a day's wage.
  4. Ted Kennedy's Swim Instructor
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    Ted Kennedy's Swim Instructor - August 08, 2013 7:03 pm
    The short answer to your tome is that times have changed. No longer can America welcome anyone aspiring to do nothing more than low skilled labor (and use LINK, Medicaid, and other benefits to supplement low wages). Indeed, to be on the bottom run of the American job market is a far better deal than what awaits many illegal aliens back home, and the reality is that the welfare society in the US is part of the allure here. Times have changed from 25 years ago when people crossing the border were people seeking work. Now it has morphed into an unbelievable percentage who come here for the welfare state, and to engage in drug smuggling or other crime.

    Medical schools don't admit everyone who fills out and application and the NFL doesn't put anyone on the field who has ever tossed a pigskin around the side yard. Why? Because these things are hard to do. The same for being an American citizen. To immigrate here you should be able to show that you have needed skills, or are bringing something unique to the country that we can't get from the native population. That is the basis of our current immigration process that people say "is broken" because we want to import more strawberry pickers?! Maybe, just MAYBE because the USA doesn't need more low-skilled labor is the reason that we don't let any Juan Pérez show up and get a Green Card. USCIS does a great job (if you let them) of going over people's qualifications for US Permanent Residency and US Citizenship, and there are good reasons why 99% of people applying are turned down.
  5. lgjhere
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    lgjhere - August 08, 2013 5:55 pm
    Let’s face it, this immigration thing is a 20th century issue that has slopped over into the 21st century. The time has come to finally resolve it in an intelligent fashion, as three-fourths of Americans favor and Obama confronts head-on. An interesting new worldwide book/ebook that helps explain the role, struggles, and contributions of immigrants and minorities is "What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” It paints a revealing picture of America for anyone who will benefit from a better understanding. Endorsed by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it also informs those who want to learn more about the last remaining superpower and how we compare to other nations on many issues.
    As the book points out, immigrants and minorities are a major force in America. Immigrants and the children they bear account for 60 percent of our nation’s population growth and own 11 percent of US businesses and are 60 percent more likely to start a new business than native-born Americans. They represent 17 percent of all new business owners (in some states more than 30 percent). Foreign-born business owners generate nearly one-quarter of all business income in California and nearly one-fifth in New York, Florida, and New Jersey. In fact, forty percent of Fortune 500 companies were started by an immigrant or a child of an immigrant, creating 10 million jobs and seven out of ten top brands in our country.
    More importantly, they come to improve their lives and create a foundation of success for their children to build upon, as did the author’s grandparents when they landed at Ellis Island in 1899 after losing 2 children to disease on a cramped cattle car-like sailing from Europe to the Land of Opportunity. Many bring skills and a willingness to work hard to make their dreams a reality, something our founders did four hundred years ago. In describing America, chapter after chapter chronicles “foreigners” who became successful in the US and contributed to our society. However, most struggle in their efforts and need guidance in Anytown, USA. Perhaps intelligent immigration reform, White House/Congress and business/labor cooperation, concerned citizens and books like this can extend a helping hand, the same unwavering hand that has been the anchor and lighthouse of American values for four hundred years.
    Here’s a closing quote from the book’s Intro: “With all of our cultural differences though, you’ll be surprised to learn how much…we as human beings have in common on this little third rock from the sun. After all, the song played at our Disneyland parks around the world is ‘It’s A Small World After All.’ Peace.” www.AmericaAtoZ.com
  6. Chadwick Snow
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    Chadwick Snow - August 08, 2013 2:35 pm
    Quite a bit of nonsense is being propagated here. First, there are a multitude of reasons why many in this country will not accept minimum wage, low skilled, jobs. It could be government benefits as some suggest, it could be the lack of prestige associated with those jobs or the working conditions associated with them as well. Whatever the reason, it's reality. In any case, suggesting that cutting off government benefits would cause an immediate flood of applicants to change bedpans, clean hotel rooms, or flip burgers is nonsense. They may be more likely to commit theft than accept those positions. It would take time to make the transition from welfare to work. I think that is a worthy cause, but it won't happen overnight. Businesses need those workers now and they need workers who want to work. That's not a given among some subsets of the unemployed who have absolutely no experience in holding a job - sad, but true.

    Why should Caterpillar be forced by bureaucratic regulation to accept an engineer, for example, who of lesser quality because he happens to be a U.S. citizen? The way it works now is an employer with a worker on a visa must accept a U.S. citizen for employment at the time that visa is up for renewal. So, we see an outflow of PhD prepared software engineers - as one example - to India because a firm has to offer the position to a C student who graduated at the bottom of his or her class. Why not invite that worker on a visa, with skills, to stay in the country to become a citizen. Our country's history during the 19th century is replete with countless examples of recruitment of foreigners to work in the railroad industry because of skill shortages at that time. I would rather see highly skilled engineers produce products for Caterpillar to make them competitive than to allow federal protection to force a business to accept less qualified professionals. As for the suggestion that Caterpillar is not producing equipment now, that too is a throwaway line. Engineers work in R&D on products in the pipeline. That's how business works, many do not understand that. The slowdown in China has contributed greatly to that decline in sales but that too will change. Caterpillar has a track record of earnings.

    If you want to keep this country competitive internationally, then you have to attract the best and brightest or, for some positions, someone willing to do the job.
  7. Schleswig-Holstein
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    Schleswig-Holstein - August 08, 2013 2:00 pm
    Snow White and the 7 immigtants.
  8. earlyriser54
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    earlyriser54 - August 08, 2013 1:48 pm
    So a farmer who hired 7 immigtants and some lawyer speaking for Caterpillar is supposed to represent "local businesses?" What a crock this story is. The truth of the matter is Caterpillar refused to built a new plant in Illinois due to Pat Quinns tax increases. What Mr.Mark Peters did not say is how few of immigrant workers Caterpillar Tractor Company actually has working for them. So as I said we have this story trying to convince people that an area farmer who hired 7 immigrants, and a paid spokesman for Caterpiallar Tractor Company ( who can not even quote how many immigtants his company has in their employ) are speaking for MAJORITY of small business owners in McLean County. Well that is just not ttue. This contry club republicans (who only represent 25% of the entire party) trying to lead to the illusion that a majority of business owners are for immigration reform. That is FALSE. Small business owners realize that immigration reform will only increase the employment problem in America. It floods the already dismal job market with 9 million more workers.
  9. NormalNews
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    NormalNews - August 08, 2013 1:39 pm
    I wonder how many unemployed or underemployed American citizens were invited to this little propaganda presentation?
  10. wigglwagon
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    wigglwagon - August 08, 2013 12:22 pm
    Supply and demand is the most basic, incontrovertible principle of economics. It does not require a DEGREE IN ECONOMICS to know that increasing the supply of labor reduces the price for that labor. In other words, it drives down wages. Driving down wages reduces consumer demand for goods and services. Reducing consumer demand causes workers to be laid off. Those lay offs reduce demand even more and bring on even more lay offs.

    The proposed immigration reform will break America.

    The only reason America ever had the MOST PROSPEROUS economy was because America had the BEST PAID employees and consequently, America had the customers with the most money to spend. American business owners are SO GREEDY that they are using free trade agreements, immigration, and deregulation to drive down wages and destroy benefits. In their quest for short term profits, employers are destroying their own customer base.
  11. GreatAmernican
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    GreatAmernican - August 08, 2013 12:03 pm
    Sounds like they just want cheap labor. Locally, this would hurt the LEGAL locals that are working or looking for work.
  12. Question Everything
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    Question Everything - August 08, 2013 8:58 am
    How convenient that they limited the audience to 30 people, and it was by invitation only. Wouldn't want to let the 'wrong' points of view into their little dog and pony show. MCC isn't a chamber of commerce, it's now a chamber of collectivism.
  13. Ted Kennedy's Swim Instructor
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    Ted Kennedy's Swim Instructor - August 08, 2013 7:53 am
    Hogs can be quite mean & stubborn.
  14. Ted Kennedy's Swim Instructor
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    Ted Kennedy's Swim Instructor - August 08, 2013 7:25 am
    First, the issue of the hog farmer:

    The harsh reality of social welfare programs in America is that we have indeed made *some* people too lazy, and our upper-class lifestyle expectations have a lot of people turning down work that they feel they are "too good" to do. I was raised middle-class but I still did farm work starting with detassling corn, walking beans, and other manual labor. With the pay being minimum wage it was OK for a teen. But for full-time farm jobs this guy is offering decent wages that are better than McDonald's or Wal-Mart. If we were to link a reduction in welfare program benefits with job availability that is currently filled by illegal alien labor, we could kill two birds with one stone. Cut the availability of work available for illegal aliens means we can deport more of them if they can't make a living here, and we can put people to work instead of paying them to sit on the couch at home munching Doritos. It's just a matter of ratcheting down the LINK benefits in small increments month-to-month. You’ll find that people suddenly find work when they get hungry.

    And on to Caterpillar’s “shortage” of engineers:

    Is this the same Caterpillar that is in an earning slump due to falling product orders? The same Caterpillar that is laying off tons of line workers due to lack of demand for their heavy machinery? How many engineers do you need to not produce the bulldozers that no one is ordering? That, and maybe the focus should be on improving the availability of engineering schools in American to educate American engineers to fill the jobs. The US has the best education systems in the world so I find it hard to believe that Caterpillar cannot go to the U of I school of engineering and begin recruiting all of the top graduates from that program . . . unless there is some reason the newly educated engineers don’t want to come work for Caterpillar? Maybe there is a compensation gap between what Caterpillar is offering and what the graduates are expecting? Some of that might go back to the lifestyle expectations that I mentioned in the paragraph above, but maybe, JUST MAYBE some of it is Caterpillar being a less than ethical company that is attempting to import cheap immigrant labor to fill jobs that they don’t want to properly compensate highly educated Americans to do. Just a thought on the matter . . .
  15. not-so-political
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    not-so-political - August 08, 2013 6:11 am
    skill and patience to work with a hog? to many green cards and visa are given out now. if a employer can not find a US citizen to do the job he or she has not looked very far. I own a small business and if I need some one to help for a day or more it takes about 10 mins. to find the help. There are plenty of people here looking for work. If you want to hire from outside the country you should have to pay a few to help feed the citizens that you did not hire from here.
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