By Kari Barbic
To be an American generally means to be from somewhere else. With the exception of those of Native American descent, U.S. citizens are the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on, of the people who left another land to make a better life for themselves and their families. Immigration is the story of America. It’s the story of my family, and I’d wager it’s the story of yours. But when we lose sight of this, it’s easy to muddy the waters of an already complex issue, forget what it’s actually about, and focus instead on what it isn’t.
1. Immigration reform is not about creating open borders.
Responsible immigration reform must address border security, especially in this post-9/11 world, according to Farm Bureau. But we’d be remiss to not look to the numbers for the full story. Border security has increased, with double the number of agents employed on the Southwest border since 2000 (totaling more than 17,000 in 2016). U.S. Border Patrol reports apprehensions at the Southwest border to be at historic lows (408,870 in 2016 compared to 1,643,679 in 2000). Add to that, for the first time since the 1940s, migration flow between Mexico and the U.S. actually reversed from 2009 to 2014 due to several factors from increased border security to an improved Mexican economy, according to the Pew Research Center.
In fact, a recent Agriculture Department study found that taking an enforcement-only approach to immigration reform could do more harm than good by putting a strain on U.S. agriculture. An American Farm Bureau Federation economic study on farm labor found that consumers also would feel the impact of an enforcement-only option, with an increase in food prices of 5 to 6 percent, as the U.S. would be forced to bring in more imports of fruit, vegetables and meat to fill the gap in domestic production. There’s no way around it: shutting the door on a foreign workforce means sending agricultural production—and the jobs that go with it—overseas.
2. Immigration reform is not about giving away American jobs.
With a serious recession in recent memory and its effect still being felt in many regions, it’s not surprising that many Americans fear for their jobs when the topic of immigration comes up. But immigrants actually have a track record of boosting the American economy and adding jobs for citizens. According to USDA, agriculture supported 14.7 million food-related industry jobs in 2014. Farm jobs have a direct link down the food chain, but they are not easy to fill.
Immigrants are hard-working, most often taking the jobs Americans don’t want or would rather not do. While foreign-born workers come to build a better life for themselves and their families, that process usually begins with tough manual labor. Although those gritty jobs are first offered to citizens, farmers and other business owners regularly report shortages in their workforce, forcing them to turn to H-2A and H-2B programs to help bring in the workers they desperately need to keep their businesses running.
3. Immigration reform is not about turning a blind eye to illegal entry.
Becoming a U.S. citizen is a long—often decades-long—process, and it’s understandable why people may bristle at the idea of anyone breaking the rules and “cutting in line.” It goes against what we know to be fair in society. But we should also bristle at the idea of friends, neighbors and employees being turned out of their homes at a moment’s notice and separated from their families.
Achieving an adjustment of status should be tough, but fair. Undocumented workers with a proven track record of hard work and civic responsibility should not be given a “free pass” but should have the opportunity to follow a strict set of guidelines—including paying a fine and passing a criminal background check—to earn legal status.
While tackling immigration reform may not be a simple process, it’s critical to preserving the unique tradition our country was founded upon, protecting American business and improving our economy.