Restaurateurs across the country who depend on immigrants as part of their workforce have reason to be optimistic that 2014 could be the year Congress passes the first significant immigration reform legislation since 1986.
The focus of the immigration reform debate has been on the House of Representatives since a comprehensive reform bill passed the Senate in June. For a time, it looked as if the House might not take up the issue. And while it’s unlikely that the House will take up the Senate’s bill, there are signs that it will take on important elements of reform in separate bills in 2014. Among those signs are recent statements by House Speaker John Boehner that he's open to the House taking a step-by-step approach to immigration reform.
“It looked for a while like immigration reform was going to be dead, but we’re hopeful,” said Ryan Kearney, the National Restaurant Association's manager of labor and workforce policy. “The House Judiciary Committee has passed several bills, which is a positive sign.” The National Restaurant Association has been a strong supporter of immigration reform measures that offer a clear path to legalization for the nation’s 11 million undocumented workers, national use of the E-Verify employment-eligibility verification system, and improved border security that doesn’t interfere with legal travel and tourism.
Two pieces of legislation currently before the House—the Legal Workforce Act, which would establish uniform use of E-Verify to replace the current patchwork of state and local laws, and the JOLT Act, which would promote travel and tourism and ease visa restrictions for legitimate travelers—have the NRA’s support.
“We’re making the rounds in Congress,” Kearney said. “We’re continuing to make our position known and emphasize that we need to get something done.” Recently, the NRA has worked with Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) to build support in the House for broad immigration reform measures, without endorsing specific legislation.
Advocacy by hundreds of restaurant operators has given the industry a significant presence in the immigration reform debate, and it’s critical that restaurateurs continue to contact their members of Congress and share their stories, Kearney said.
“Congress needs to hear that immigration reform is important to our industry,” he said. “Even under the most difficult economic conditions, restaurants were able to grow and hire. Reform is vital for that to continue.”
For news and information on immigration reform, visit www.AmericaWorksHere.org/immigration.
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