Immigration Reform Forum in Springfield
As Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives consider immigration reform, business leaders in central Illinois are trying to decide where they stand on the topic.
The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce doesn't currently have a position on immigration reform. Today, they convened a panel aimed at helping them develop a stance. The goal is to have a position in time to articulate it to Congressmen Aaron Schock and Rodney Davis before they need to vote on the topic.
Forum guests represented a variety of groups, many of whom were focused on either low-skill or high-skill immigrant labor.
We stopped by the Illinois State Fairgrounds to find out what role immigrants currently play in the horse industry.
"You find that the immigrants want to work, most of them like to be around animals," Webb Parlier, a horseman and horse show manager, said "And for the trainer, it's a good deal because they don't have to pay them so much, and it still keeps the good ones around."
Parlier has seen how important immigrant labor has become to the Illinois horse industry, and that elsewhere in the nation it's already become difficult to find legal workers.
"Take Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona," Parlier said. "Some of the biggest ranches are operated by Mexicans."
The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce put together a forum to talk about immigration issues, and to develop a position on the topic of reforming the system.
"Talent is an incredibly important part of how we are going to and grow jobs in this community," Chamber President and CEO Steward Sandstrom said. "And immigration is a component of that."
Guests included a representative from Caterpillar, who tells us the U.S. simply isn't producing enough engineers for them to hire.
"Right now the immigration system is broken," Caterpillar's Mark Peters said. "And it's making it very difficult for us to bring and recruit that talent, these educated folks from overseas, so that we can remain competitive with our overseas competitors."
Peters said some engineers from India are having to wait eight to 10 years for a green card. He added China has a surplus of engineers, scientists, and technologists, and Caterpillar is competing with Chinese companies for that talent--and for business.
But many opponents of immigration reform fear that foreign citizens will replace American workers.
"For every foreign national that is at a U.S. university, that we keep here, as opposed to sending overseas, that creates 2.5 or more U.S. jobs," Peters said. "So this is not taking away jobs from U.S. employees. This is creating jobs. This is part of a pro-growth, pro-America agenda."
We also spoke to the owner of Walker Standardbreds, a large horse farm near Springfield. He said he doesn't hire any employees who aren't U.S. citizens. He also said making the immigration process easier might help horse farms find employees, but he fears that it would also remove some opportunities for American workers.