AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- A group of Mainers is joining a bi-partisan national effort to pressure Congress into comprehensive immigration reform.
The Partnership for a New Economy says reforming U.S. immigration policy is critical to the country's economy. Mainers who support the group held a news conference Tuesday to explain why it matters here.
State Rep. Jeff Timberlake (R - Turner), who owns Ricker Hill Orchards in Turner, said his business is at a competitive disadvantage when farmers in the West hire illegal immigrants at low wages. He also said the visa process is onerous, and forces him to predict the weather three months in advance to determine which 5-6 weeks during the year he'll need migrant workers. "If Mother Nature decides we're going to pick apples on September 1st this year or August 28th, and we have our paperwork that says that we can't have pickers until September 15th, I could lose a lot of apples."
Joel Pond of Fairchild Semiconductor said making more visas available can help the Maine economy by allowing high-skilled workers who are educated in the US to stay here. Pond said, "If our immigration system is not modernized to attract more skilled foreigners to our workforce, the US will lag behind, hurting our economy, our high tech sector and companies like Fairchild."
The Partnership for a New Economy is a national group that is looking for the principles outlined by the Gang of 8 in Congress to be a part of immigration reform. Among the reforms they're asking for:
- Tougher border enforcement
- Creating a secure system for employers to verify worker eligibility
- Increasing opportunities for immigrants to enter the U.S. workforce, and allow more foreign students to stay in the country to work
- Streamline the process for seasonal workers
- Establish a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants
- Strengthen programs that offer English language, civics and other education to immigrants
The speakers in Maine are asking Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Senator Angus King (I-Maine) to support those principles.
In a statement, Senator King wrote: "I am strongly in favor of the bipartisan work already going on around immigration reform. This year is the time to do it and I am delighted that a group in Maine is actively involved. Immigration has played an important role in the formation and development of our country. At the same time, our current immigration system is broken and dysfunctional. "
Sen. Collins' spokesperson, Kevin Kelly said in a statement: "Senator Collins agrees that our immigration system is broken and is in need of comprehensive reform. She is pleased that Senators Rubio and Schumer, and other members of the Gang of Eight, are working toward a bipartisan solution. They have not yet introduced a bill, but Senator Collins is looking closely at the principles they have outlined. Senator Collins believes that true reform must secure our borders, deter illegal immigration, and favor those who have followed our immigration laws. Reform should also find a fair way for young people brought to the U.S. as children to remain in this country, and to allow the best and the brightest educated in the U.S. to stay and build their futures here."