IMMIGRATION REFORM WILL REMAIN A HOT TOPIC for the United States and BSCAI now that the Obama Administration has taken office. No matter how you look at it, there will be no easy or quick fix to this situation.
President Obama stated, “The time to fix our broken immigration system is now. We need stronger enforcement on the border and at the workplace. But for reform to work, we also must respond to what pulls people to America. Where we can reunite families, we should. Where we can bring in more foreign-born workers with the skills that our economy needs, we should.”
The promise from President Obama’s transition team to strip away agency practices inconsistent with his vision of change comes not a moment too soon. Our current immigration system is fatally flawed, and while legislation will be required to ensure permanent reform, the necessity for change at the administrative level is a natural starting point.
The deportation-only strategies executed by DHS and ICE over the past year have resulted in nothing but heartache for thousands of undocumented workers and their families, have terrorized legal immigrant communities, and have degraded the due process rights upon which this country was founded. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recognizes that irresponsible execution of raids is an ineffective solution to our broken immigration system. The next administration will have multiple opportunities to change the course of immigration policy even before any vote in Congress is taken.
Obama says that he will create secure borders, improve the immigration system and remove incentives for immigrants to enter the country illegally. More specifically, Obama’s immigration agenda includes:
• Securing borders by providing additional personnel, technology and infrastructure. • Improving the immigration system: “Fix the dysfunctional bureaucracy and increase the number of legal immigrants to keep families together and meet the demands for jobs that employers cannot fill.” • Remove incentives for illegal immigration by prosecuting employers who hire undocumented immigrants.
• Allow undocumented immigrants in “good standing” to pay fines, learn English and “move to the back of the line” in order to become U.S. citizens.
• Promote economic development with Mexico in order to decrease illegal immigration.
In July 2008 Obama addressed the National Council of La Raza, a national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization that strives to improve opportunities for Hispanic Americans. He promised to make immigration reform a top priority if elected president. “I think it’s time for a president who won’t walk away from something as important as comprehensive reform just because it becomes politically unpopular. I will make it a top priority in my first year as President of the United States of America.” President Obama’s official campaign site highlights his previous record on immigration. He has previously:
• Advocated for a system that allows employers to easily verify immigration eligibility of their employees in order to crack down on employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants.
"IF THE NEW OBAMA ADMINISTRATION CAN IMPLEMENT AND FOLLOW THEIR PLAN, IT SHOULD BE A WIN-WIN SITUATION FOR ALL."
• Proposed amendments that would emphasize keeping immigrant families together.
• Along with Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), introduced the Citizenship Promotion Act that would help ensure that immigration application fees are fair.
The number of undocumented immigrants in the country has increased more than 40 percent since 2000. Every year more than a half-million people enter the United States illegally and many more overstay their visas. There are currently at least 12 million (with estimates reaching as high as 20 million) illegal aliens in this country. It is estimated that at least 20 percent of workers in the contract commercial janitorial cleaning industry are illegal. The impact on BSCAI companies that comply with all regulations has been staggering. Despite a seven-fold increase in recent years, immigration raids only netted 3,600 arrests in 2006 and have placed all the burdens of a broken system onto immigrant families and private companies.
Larry Calufetti, president of Sunshine Cleaning Systems, Inc. in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, says that the playing field needs to be level to be able to compete in a competitive environment. Sunshine Cleaning Systems cleans international airports, convention centers, governmental centers, colleges, schools, and water and power plants. These are high-security government facilities that are tightly regulated. But many of the private-sector facilities such as multitenant buildings are only interested in low-bid formats and low price. Many companies, large and small, utilize illegal employees in private and small facilities and also use illegal subcontracting practices.
There are workers who are being abused and taken advantage of by their employers. It also opens the door to all types of security concerns in critical infrastructure facilities throughout the United States. Sunshine Cleaning implements it own Employee Security Awareness Program (E.S.A.P.). This program was developed after the 9/11 attacks and is one of the first security programs specifically designed for the contract cleaning industry. If the new Obama Administration can implement and follow its plan, it should be a win-win situation for all employees, professional janitorial companies and all BSCAI contractors.
The American people want fairness and justice. They recognize that the idea of deporting 12 million people is ridiculous, that we’re not going to be devoting all our law enforcement resources to sending people back. But what they do also want is some order to the process. We’re not going to be able to do these things in isolation. We’re not going to be able to deal with the 12 million people who are living in the shadows and give them a way of getting out of the shadows if we don’t also deal with the problem of this constant influx of undocumented workers. That’s why comprehensive reform is so important. Obama states that what we can do immediately is pass the Dream Act, which allows children who, through no fault of their own, have essentially grown up as Americans, the opportunity for higher education. “I do not want two classes of citizens in this country. I want everybody to prosper. That’s going to be a top priority,” Obama has said.
These are the debates that we are having. My hope is that we come up with a comprehensive bill. My bottom line is that we have to have our borders sealed, but we also have to humanely treat the people who are already here. It is important for all of us to remember that not every single immigrant who came into this country through Ellis Island had proper documentation. Not every one of our grandparents or great-grandparents would have necessarily qualified for legal immigration, but they did come here in search of a dream, in search of hope. And Americans, I think, understand that and are willing to give an opportunity to those who are already here as long as we get serious about making sure that our borders mean something. Today’s immigrants are following the same path. We do them and ourselves a disservice if we don’t recognize the contributions of these individuals. But we also fail to protect our nation if we don’t regain control of our immigration system immediately.
No single member of our industry can change the course of the debate on critical issues like immigration reform, worker shortage, tax relief and the minimum wage. As chairman of Government Affairs for the BSCAI, I will leverage the collective voice of our organization and our industry to take action on the issues that matter most to all of our businesses. Policymakers, regulators and the media alike look to BSCAI for the latest in industry developments, and through your support of the government affairs team, we will be able to deliver our message clearly and effectively.
Through regular updates on the BSCAI Web site you can keep abreast of developments in Washington and also use member surveys to hone our advocacy message to ensure that the views and concerns of all BSCAI members are addressed in our dialogue with Washington decision makers.
The ability to maintain this advocacy presence, and fight for building service contractors in Washington, hinges upon all BSCAI contractors being involved and supporting the Government Affairs Team. Get involved! It will be an investment that yields great returns for both your business and the building service contracting industry as a whole.