Participants in the "farm-to-fork" discussion to raise awareness of the need for immigration reform said one problem is the current H-2A Visa Program for farm and ranch workers. They complain it is costly, bureaucratic and too complicated, a Utah Farm Bureau spokesman said.
Immigrant farmworkers arrive at their job sites an average of 22 days late because of bureaucratic delays, translating to $320 million in lost revenue nationally, according to a survey by the National Council of Agricultural Employers.
Regulatory issues hampering the immigrant workforce affect all aspects of the food industry, increasing costs and limiting production, said Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association.
"Immigrants flock to the restaurant industry because it represents a uniquely powerful option for economic advancement," Sine said. "But without meaningful immigration reform, this industry and many others simply can't continue to contribute to the economy as it does today."
Todd Bingham, president of the Utah Manufacturers Association, also acknowledged the key role played my immigrant workers. He cited the statistic that each of the 1.6 million hired farmworkers in the United States supports up to three full-time jobs involved in food processing, transportation, agriculture equipment, marketing, retail and other sectors.
"The manufacturing industry has struggled to keep jobs in the U.S. Immigrants play a key role in keeping and creating more manufacturing jobs," Bingham said. "Reforming our broken immigration system will allow us to retain and revitalize more communities that rely on manufacturing jobs. I urge Congress to get immigration reform completed this year."
The U.S. Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform legislation last year, but the House hasn't moved on reform bills, and it's unclear whether the Republican-controlled body will before the November election.
Staff members from the offices of Utah GOP Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart attended Monday's event.
Both have opposed the Senate reform bill because it contains a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants now in the country illegally. Chaffetz has supported more piecemeal efforts to improve the legal immigration system, including an upgraded guest-worker program for agriculture, while Stewart has said reform is a low priority for most voters. The immigration issues does not show up on his House website.
Utahns support legal immigration fixes
A newly released University of Utah poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Utahns 77 percent support reforming immigration laws in ways that would increase opportunities for people to immigrate legally to the United States. More than 80 percent say that legal immigration has a positive impact on the state's economy. On the flip side, 63 percent believe that illegal immigration has a negative impact on the state. The survey was conducted May 13-21 among 799 Utah voters by Dan Jones & Associates in partnership with the U.'s David Eccles School of Business. The margin of error was 3.47 percent.