Estimates vary, but roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants work in the United States along with an additional 4.5 million children who are U.S.-born citizens. Of these, an estimated 525,000 undocumented workers are employed in agriculture.
In Wisconsin, many undocumented workers are employed on large dairy farms and in canning factories. The workers work long hours – often up to 60 hours per week, and are willing to work night shifts and weekends when few others prefer to work.
Nationally, they are helping harvest fruit and vegetables, they are working in meat packing plants and they are feeding cattle in feedlots. They also work as maids, dishwashers and restaurant workers as well as in other industries.
Existing immigration laws penalize many hardworking individuals who are often deported, separating thousands of families whose children often stay here and are forced to live with relatives other than their parents for years.
While some people believe immigrants don't belong here and they wish they would just go home, they should realize immigrants pay taxes, buy cars, computers, food, clothing, big-screen TVs and all sorts of other consumer goods. Since 70% of the U.S. economy is based on consumer spending, our economy can use all the help it can get.
President Barack Obama has said overhauling the immigration system "would boost our economy, strengthen our security and live up to our most closely-held values as a society."
Nearly a year after the Democratic-run Senate approved a comprehensive immigration bill, Obama last month urged the Republican-run House to follow suit. Obama noted that the Senate bill had some bipartisan support, and its "commonsense agreement would grow the economy by $1.4 trillion and shrink the deficit by nearly $850 billion over the next two decades."
The bill also provides "a tough but fair pathway to earned citizenship to bring 11 million undocumented individuals out of the shadows, modernizing our legal immigration system, continuing to strengthen border security and holding employers accountable," Obama said.
The proposed pathway to citizenship for immigrants already in the United States illegally is a major sticking point in the House. Many Republicans describe the plan as amnesty for lawbreakers.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has called for a gradual "step-by-step" approach to immigration changes. After months of silence, Boehner has finally started to show signs that he is ready to bring immigration reform to the table. Despite the issues with Republicans blocking a path to citizenship, a number of Republican politicians including Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, seem ready to follow Boehner's lead and warm up to the idea of immigration reform in 2014. Immigration reform is an easy win for both sides if they can put away their differences.
Obama raised political implications of the immigration bill: "The majority of Americans are ahead of House Republicans on this crucial issue and there is broad support for reform, including among Democrats and Republicans, labor and business and faith and law enforcement leaders."
Republicans and Democrats were finally able to reach a compromise in February and pass a farm bill. Now is the time to put aside their differences and pass immigration reform.