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January 2015   

Get Immigration Reform Right

By: Scott Casabona

President Barack Obama took to the airwaves Nov. 20 and announced to the country he was taking executive action on immigration. The presidentís action will extend protection from deportation and the right to work for an estimated 4.1 million illegal residents who are the parents of U.S. citizens or the parents of legal permanent residents and have lived in the country for at least five years. The presidentís actions were most likely in response to the Republicans taking control of both houses in the November mid-term elections and his desire to enact some type of immigration reform while still in office before a Republican controlled congress takes up this issue sometime this year.

However, it would be much more desirable if immigration reform was accomplished with a bipartisan approach and both the House and Senate could reach agreement on this important issue. What is sorely needed is far-reaching, permanent reform that addresses not only the current group of illegal workers in this country but provides for a guest worker program and, ultimately, a clear path to citizenship.

As the political fight over immigration continues, illegal immigrants are forced to work in the shadows and lack many of the protections afforded to U.S. citizens and foreigners who with work visas. Because many illegal immigrants who enter the United States do so for family reasons and not necessarily for work opportunities, the vast majority of them are uneducated and lack the skills most manufacturing and high-tech industries seek. Thus, these immigrants are drawn to low-paying jobsómany of which are in the agricultural industry and the lesser skilled trades of the construction industry.

One thing in undeniable: Undocumented and illegal workers are vulnerable to suppressed wages and give exploitive employers an unfair advantage in the marketplace. Undocumented workers are susceptible to abuse and mistreatment by their employers and lack legal standing to stand up and fight for whatís fair and equitable. In addition, many illegal workers are misclassified by their employers as subcontractors; they lack workersí compensation insurance (which is a legal requirement in most states), and they fail to pay taxes. Sweeping immigration reforms would surely raise wages for the lowest earners and might even attract more potential candidates to our industry as wages, benefits, working conditions and legal protections improve. And that would sure go a long way in heading off the impending labor shortage that experts are predicting for our industry in the coming years. Letís hope our leaders in Washington, D.C., can enact the type of comprehensive reforms that our country and industry so desperately want and need.

In addition to being 2014Ė2015 president of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry, Casabona is president of Sloan & Company, Inc. in West Caldwell, N.J.

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