Benefits of immigration in Summit County
Former Park City Mayor Dana Williams reminisced upon a time when he said people could disagree with each other on important issues but still be able to sit together at the dinner table to figure out a compromise. Those days are long gone, he said, as Congress and the President of the United States fail to come together to create much needed immigration reform.
Williams is not the only Utahn who feels that immigration reform is a pressing issue. Statistics were released by Harper Polling this week show an overwhelming majority of Utahns believe the current immigration system is failing.
Several leaders in the community, including Matt Hargreaves, communications director for the Utah Farm Bureau Federation; Bill Malone, CEO of the Park City Chamber/Bureau; Chris Eggleton, general manager of the Newpark Resort and Hotel and President of the Park City Area Lodging Association; Timothy Wheelwright, immigration law attorney, and Williams gathered at the Chamber/Bureau Visitors Center Wednesday morning.
"We are here today to talk about why we should care about immigration reform in Utah, how it impacts our industries and what needs to be done," Wheelwright said. "We need to call on our President and Congress to come together and make much needed reforms for our immigration system to begin working."
According to poll results released earlier this week, 91 percent of Utahns surveyed said they believe the U.S. immigration system is in need of fixing. When asked if it is acceptable for Congress to allow things to stay the way they are along the U.S./Mexico border and with the immigration system or if it is better for them to take action, 90 percent of Utahns said Congress needed to take action.
The consensus among Wednesday’s panelists was that partisanship is the major obstacle, which seems ironic given that both Republican and Democratic parties agree it is an issue that needs reform. According to the survey, 52 percent of those polled were Republicans while 22 percent were Democrats and 27 percent claimed to be Independents. Regardless of the difference in political ideologies, 74 percent of Utahns surveyed said they would rather vote for a presidential candidate in 2016 that supports immigration reform.
Additionally, 49 percent of Utahns said it is very important for Congress to act on immigration reform this year while 34 percent claimed it was somewhat important. Hargreaves agreed the issue is urgent, referring to the shortage of labor on farms in Utah.
"We face a shortage of workers every year, and what may be different for us from other industries is that we have biological deadlines that do not pay attention to political timetables," Hargreaves said. "We have found that our farms rely heavily on H-2A visa holders, temporary agricultural workers, and they show up sometimes 22 days late because of administrative delays. This system doesn’t work for an industry where you cannot delay."
Malone said the H-2B visa holders, temporary non-agricultural workers, contribute greatly to the seasonal workforce at the resorts in town. Eggleton said those resorts, his included, also experience a shortage of workers due to delays, which affects customer service, "an area in which we cannot fail to live up to expectations."
Another issue is the lack of temporary visas. According to Malone, only 66 million temporary visas are available for nearly 155 million workers who seek them. Wheelwright said those numbers were set in the 1980s and have yet to be adjusted.
"Our economy keeps growing and the numbers stay the same, so the competition gets tougher and resorts find themselves severely limited in terms of international employees," Malone said. "They not only help our resorts to function but add a great element to our community. As we continue to try and make Park City a global destination, it is exciting for our international guests to find people from their home countries working here."
Hargreaves said many Americans fear that allowing undocumented citizens a chance to achieve legal citizenship will result in a huge loss of jobs, but the situation is quite the contrary. There is not a domestic workforce that is willing to do the jobs immigrant farm workers do, and even if they did, he said, they most likely would not be able to do it.
"It is a skilled labor, and it is hard and rigorous work," he said. "So part of the problem with immigration policies today is that we have temporary workers, but industries like agriculture are not a temporary need. We need a certainty in our workforce."
Immigrants not only help businesses already in place become successful but create businesses themselves. Wheelwright said immigration itself is an act of entrepreneurship and that Forbes reported in 2011 that 40 percent of all Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or children of immigrants.
"Immigration is great not only for the economy of Utah but for the country, so our lawmakers need to be looking for as many ways as we can to improve the economy," he said.
If the industry leaders seated at the table in the Visitors Center could say one thing to members of Congress, they all agreed they would tell them they were elected to make decisions on the behalf of those that voted for them.
"The Senate bill (S.744– Immigration Modernization Act of 2013) needs to be vetted and sent to the House to be discussed, because it needs to be voted either up or down instead of just burying it," Malone said. "Businesses all around the country depend on realistic adjustments to immigration policy, so to deny the opportunity to hash it out is not in our best interest. They need to take any sort of action on it sooner rather than later."
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