This month, a House-Senate conference committee is expected to begin work to see whether an agreement can be reached to reconcile differences between two vastly different bills addressing the U.S. immigration system. Rarely has such an effort had so much importance to the roofing industry.
The House bill deals almost exclusively with border security, serving only to restrict the flow of immigrants into the country. It also would make employers largely responsible for enforcing the current, unworkable immigration law. No responsible employer supports illegal immigration, but addressing border security first, as the bill's supporters describe it, is politician-speak for only addressing border security and leaving the current immigration mess intact.
The Senate bill, though not perfect, is a much better attempt at comprehensive reform of the system. Among other things, it would provide for a significant increase in the number of workers who could enter the country legally and allow those already in the country to earn citizenship over time—with penalties for noncompliance.
Speaking to NRCA's board of directors in July, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez pointed out more than half the undocumented workers in the U.S. entered the country legally; they are illegal now because they remained past their visa expiration dates. The problem, he reminded us, is more complicated than simply contending with prospective workers sneaking across the border.
Complicating matters, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security proposed new rules earlier this year to define what is meant by the "reasonable" efforts an employer must take to verify citizenship. As we explained in a Special Report issued to NRCA members Aug. 1, the proposed new rules would put still more burdens on employers—and most likely serve only to drive more workers into a growing underground economy.
This is an election year, so we need to keep reminding ourselves the rhetoric is overheated. But there is a widening gap between the extreme positions on this issue, and we might do well to think of it as the gap where reasonableness resides. It's more important than ever to remind our elected officials how significant this issue is and how badly we need to fix a broken system.
Bill Good is NRCA's executive vice president.