South Carolina agriculture and tourism leaders want to see the immigration debate revived in Congress at the first of the year, before it gets stymied by the election season.
South Carolina farmer Chalmers Carr has been back and forth to Washington in the past year, pushing for fixes to what he calls an out-of-date set of immigration laws. But a government shutdown, fiscal cliff debates, and other Capitol Hill crises have dimmed his hopes.
“No immigration bill has ever been passed in an election year, so even though the momentum in 2013 is there — the leadership of industry, the churches, business — unfortunately history is not on our side as to getting this done in 2014, ” Carr said. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to quit, it just means that our hill got a little steeper.”
Carr employs 540 immigrant workers each year at Titan Peach Farms in western South Carolina.
“We have got to have people to work in these fields. Our younger generations aren’t going to do it. We are not training kids to do unskilled labor in this country, we are just not. So, we’ve got to recognize that if we want to have domestic production of our fruits and vegetables and our fiber and everything else to go along with it, and our manufacturing jobs, we are going to have to import labor to do that,” Carr told South Carolina Radio Network. “Our national security depends on food security and safety.”
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham met with state and regional tourism leaders Monday, and told them it will be up to the House to make things happen. Hannah Horne, public policy director for the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, attended the meeting to make a case for a better process for worker visas.
“In our particular area, that has a very unique, service-based economy, we need not only access to workers in our hospitality, our retail and in our thought community — which includes our universities, ” Horne said. “This is a business issue.”
Graham’s comprehensive immigration bill passed the Senate, but it will not get the attention of the House’s own one-at-a-time approach to topics like interior border enforcement, guest worker program, and citizenship relief for immigrant children.
Carr has worked closely with both Graham and Rep. Trey Gowdy, who chairs an immigration subcommittee and sponsored one of the four House bills under consideration.
Carr and Horne agreed that the changes must happen at the federal level, in part because only the State Department can issue visas into the country.
They also agree that it is a matter of competition.
“When South Carolina passed an e-verification law, we lost a lot of workers, that were good workers, who just went to other states that didn’t have these laws,” Carr said. “We cannot continue to have 52 states in this country passing their own bills. Do you know how difficult it will be for businesses?”