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Immigration Reform: A Trip to the White House

White House Collage

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with several senior advisors to the National Economic Council in Washington DC. Our “Gang of Nine” business leaders from the South included people involved in construction, agriculture and the food industry. We were invited to the Capital to discuss immigration reform.

Interestingly, we all found fairly common ground. After our meeting, it seems there is finally enough congressional and executive branch momentum to get immigration reform passed in 2013. Hopefully. Equally important, at least to me, is the congressional “Gang of Eight,” a bipartisan group from both sides of the aisle working together to find common ground. It was music to my ears.

Here are 5 takeaways from our group:

1. Too many employers are gaming the system by hiring undocumented workers. Eleven million of these are “living in the shadows,” often being paid less than a living wage. We need to even the playing field.

2. Immigration reform will provide gains and bring improvements to our GDP from the creation of small businesses. Present job opportunities can be filled. Immigration reform will help attract and retain the best and the brightest from outside the US. 

3. The new standards to gain citizenship need to be tough but fair. The rules should be enforceable and “doable” at the same time. They should accommodate employers in case mistakes are made through e-verify, giving them safe harbor. Good faith compliance should be an affirmative defense. Prior to any civil or criminal penalties, the government should be required to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the employer had actual knowledge that the employee circumvented the e-verify system.

4. We discussed the guest worker program, where an applicant for the program already living in the US can pay a registration fee with a sponsoring employer and comply with all rules and regulations necessary under the new law. The employer may be able to aid the worker in paying the fee, or the worker can have his/her fee withheld from wages over a period of time. In accordance with the current requirements under Federal law, guest workers and their resident families will not be entitled to any type of government assistance or aid during the pendency of their guest worker status.

5. The strength of our border security is important. The good news is that the federal law will effectively override fragmented state attempts at their own immigration and e-verify laws, which 17 states have already enacted. While both the Senate and House versions of a bill are working their way through the process, hopefully there will be a vote this summer.

After our morning session, we were invited to the South Lawn of the White House to view another National Championship Team being honored by the President. All well done.

Maybe this is a good omen for championship immigration reform.

AL National Champions

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.