For too many years Congress failed to address the issue of comprehensive immigration reform and by doing so ignored the status of the now estimated 11 million undocumented immigrations currently living and working in the United States. Subsequently, businesses have been left to grapple with what has become a matrix of state and local immigration laws passed to fill the void left by Congress.
As grocers we open ours doors each and every day to serve our local communities. More and more of our customers and our associates are impacted by the failure of our immigration system, either directly or indirectly. Some grocers have even been subjected to intrusive and costly actions by federal and state local law enforcement in search of potential undocumented workers or other violations. Inaction is no longer an option. The time is come for our nation to address the immigration issue head on.
In February 2013 the National Grocers Association’s Board of Directors appointed a committee to study the immigration issue and ultimately make a policy recommendation for NGA to adopt. In April a position recommendation was made and subsequently approved unanimously by the Board of Directors, leading NGA to take the bold step of endorsing comprehensive immigration reform.
NGA’s position calls for comprehensive reform that preempts state and local laws and includes four major provisions:
- Secure borders and respect for the rule of law.
- Mandatory E-Verify at no cost to employers for new hires only with a strong safe harbor that protects employers acting in good faith.
- Support for an expanded guest worker program that includes trades such as bakers, butchers, and cooks.
- A path to legal status for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants so that they can come out of the shadows, while keeping families together.
Embracing comprehensive immigration reform that addresses the real challenges facing our nation today, while ensuring strong protections for employers acting in good faith, is a step in the right direction. Independent grocers are willing to be part of the solution as long as employers are provided with appropriate safe harbors to ensure their ability to comply without fear of criminal or civil reprisals. We know that we are asking our members subject themselves to new administrative burdens through E-Verify and we don’t take that mandate lightly; however immigration reform is coming and with it will be a mandatory employment verification component. By working with Congress and other stakeholders we can be part of the solution and enact comprehensive reform that works for grocers and the communities we serve.
It’s time for Congress to do the right thing and pass comprehensive immigration reform that supports the principles supported by NGA’s Board. The Senate recently took the important step in passing their bill and now the focus shifts to the House where the Judiciary Committee has been holding hearings and considering proposals. NGA will continue to be part of that process and support common sense efforts that strengthen employer protections.
The immigration debate is one that we all have a stake in and should support Congress working in a bi-partisan manner to pass a comprehensive bill that works for all. It’s the right thing to do for our country and the right thing to do for our industry.
Peter Larkin is the President and CEO of the National Grocers Association (NGA), the national trade association representing the retail and wholesale grocers that comprise the independent sector of the food distribution industry.