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Phyllis Harden

Legislative & Special Projects, Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel
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Industry Priorities

Immigration Reform

Support Immigration Reform that Strengthens National Security, Functions Efficiently and Fairly, and Addresses Future Workforce Needs

Background:

The current immigration system is broken.  It provides little opportunity for legal immigration, has created a permanent underclass of undocumented workers, fails to utilize the latest technology to verify work status and has created a patchwork of ordinances causing uncertainty for employers who are trying to comply with competing federal, state or local ordinances.  To fix the system, successful legislation must strengthen national security, create a fair and efficient employment verification system, create a program for temporary guest workers to meet future workforce needs in the less-skilled sectors, and find a reasonable and rational way of dealing with the current undocumented population in the United States.

AGC Message:

Strengthen National Security. The immigration system must protect our national security by providing for the screening of foreign workers, strengthening national borders, creating a workable temporary worker visa program and creating disincentives for illegal immigration.

Federal Preemption Is Necessary. Immigration is a federal issue. Any federal legislation must preempt the patchwork of conflicting and confusing state and local laws that has been adopted or could be implemented in the future. Employers should be subject to uniform standards regardless of worksite locations.

“Knowing” Standard Must Remain the Liability Standard for the Employment of Unauthorized Workers. The government should not play a game of “gotcha” or encourage racial profiling. Employers must be able to understand the rules and must act on information that they verify or “know.”

There Should Not Be Vicarious Liability Created In Any New Legislation. Each company should be held accountable for their direct employees and not be subject to fines based on the hiring actions of their subcontractors. 

Debarment Should Not Be Expanded Beyond Current Law. Efforts to change the procurement process and ignore current Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) procedures for federal contractors should not be part of any immigration bill. Efforts to do so distort the procurement process, which was not set up to be an enforcement tool for other federal agencies.

Penalties Should Be Commensurate with Violation. Any penalties for errors or non-compliance should be commensurate with the violation(s) and should exempt minor, first-time paperwork violations. Fines should be reasonable and capped. 

Mandatory Electronic Verification System (E-Verify) Must Be Reliable, and Mandates Should Cover Only New Hires and Include Reasonable Deadlines and Liability Safeguards. Construction employers want a reliable method of verifying the work authorization of new hires and they also want to be protected from liability for making a hiring or firing decision based on a government-mandated system.

Establish an Opportunity for Earned Legal Status of Undocumented Workers. Amnesty is not an option, but law-abiding undocumented workers already working and paying taxes in the U.S. should have an opportunity to earn legal status. Elements should include fines, proof of work contribution (with a safe harbor for employers lacking knowledge of illegal status), English proficiency, and security checks.

Create a New Visa Program to Legally Alleviate Worker Shortages and Secure the Border. To provide a legal option to illegal immigration and to meet projected future workforce needs, a new guestworker visa program should be established with the following standards: (1) visas should be valid long enough to ensure that the employer’s training investment is not lost and employer needs are met; (2) visas should be renewable; (3) employers should be able to sponsor employees for permanent residency during the term of the guestworker visa; (4) the cap should be flexible and based on the needs of the marketplace, not place arbitrary restrictions on the construction industry; and (5) guestworkers should enjoy the same labor and employment law protections as other employees.

Expand the H-2B Visa Program for Construction Companies. The program needs relief from the statutory cap by exempting returning workers who have followed the law from counting against the limit. The program needs to be more compatible with the distinct needs of the construction industry.

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