Trade Associations Following Immigration and Taking a Stand on the Issue

June 19, 2006
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More than a few trade associations have voiced their concern regarding the immigration issue. Those that have been speaking out the loudest have been the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association (PHCC). These associations have been submitting press releases to the media expressing their collective opinions when they believe they are warranted.

PHCC, for instance, issued a statement, produced by its Government Relations Committee and approved by the national board of directors, in late January this year. In the statement, it noted, "many U.S. businesses, especially those in the agriculture and construction communities, are dependent upon these immigrants. To deport these immigrants would put in jeopardy the survival of many businesses. The guest worker visa program proposed by the Bush administration would allow immigrants to apply for the right to work in this country."

In the end, PHCC stated, "Illegal immigrants strain federal, state, and local resources. Clear and sensible immigration laws must be established that provide vigorous and efficient enforcement. National security will be strengthened by creating a disincentive for illegal immigrants. Immigration policies have to be strengthened to ensure that U.S. workers are not displaced by foreign workers."

The association said it supports a comprehensive approach "to cure the nation's immigration crisis; one that strengthens our borders, our national security, and our economy."

"PHCC believes that Congress is obligated to create a program that would allow hard-working, tax-paying, undocumented workers to enter the construction industry and earn legal status," it concluded in its release. "Undocumented immigrants that are not employed, not actively pursuing employment, engaging in illicit activity, or otherwise not positively contributing to society, must be deported. At present, PHCC members must review and identify employees through the I-9 verification process; PHCC opposes additional legislation that would make employers become the de facto ‘immigration police.'

PHCC said it seeks support from Congress to:

  • "Strengthen our national security through increased interior enforcement and border security; immigration laws should be clear, sensible, efficient, and vigorously enforced; and

  • "Reform the nation's immigration system to allow for the establishment of a guest worker visa program that would permit hard-working, tax-paying, undocumented workers to earn legal status."

    KEEPING TRACK OF THE ISSUE

    Not knowing where Congress is headed with immigration reform - as new and different bills have surfaced over the past year - PHCC continues to keep track of its legislative path. For instance, when one of the proposals included a provision that would hold a company responsible if another company subcontracted a company that uses illegal immigrants, it warned its membership.

    "For example, if your plumbing business subcontracts with a drywall company that uses illegal immigrants, you could be held liable for fines and penalties," noted Lake Coulson, vice president of government relations. "Depending on the outcome of a House-Senate conference, such fines and penalties could amount into the five-figure range, and the possibility of being charged as a felon is indeed a possibility."

    In his release to members, Coulson noted that Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) was offering an amendment to remove the contractor liability provisions in the legislation. Coulson noted that he was attempting to include the language offered via an amendment offered by Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Georgia) during the House consideration of immigration legislation.

    "The Westmoreland amendment would remove all contractor liability with the exception of the contractor that ‘knowingly' hires subcontractors that were illegal," said Coulson, who encouraged members to write Congress. To help matters, the association also placed an example letter on its Website for members to download and mail off.

    In yet another move, PHCC now offers a pocket-sized HVACR Spanish/English dictionary. The "HVAC Spanish" book includes common trade terms for HVACR, notes on Spanish pronunciation, basic terms (such as days of the week, months, and numbers), and translation of safety signs. It can be purchased on PHCC's Website, $5 for members and $7.50 for nonmembers.

    IN THE ACT, TOO

    AGC has been just as vocal, if not more. It issued a release to the public before PHCC did. In a December 2005 statement, it expressed concern with elements of legislation that was then introduced in the House by chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin), which called for strengthening borders and increasing internal enforcement. At that point in time, AGC CEO Stephen Sandherr said,

    "While AGC is encouraged by the attention being focused on the issue of immigration, we strongly feel that a comprehensive approach is the only way to get true reform. We appreciate chairman Sensenbrenner's effort to move this debate forward."

    In AGC's estimation, any viable remedy should do three things: strengthen national security, reinforce the rule of law, and address the current and future economic and labor needs of the economy.

    "The Border and Immigration Enforcement Act of 2005 is a move towards addressing this important issue," AGC said in that December release. "However, legislation limited to interior enforcement and border security fail to recognize the economic realities of the construction industry and many other industries.

    "Construction is expected to require an average of nearly 200,000 new workers per year over the next decade. However, the industry is still faced with the reality that foreign-born workers are necessary to help fill the jobs for construction services and products that Americans demand."

    Since that release, AGC has issued three more, each expressing support for the movement in immigration reform. It gave its approval when talk centered on increasing border security. Most recently, on May 25, it issued a statement applauding the U.S. Senate for the passage of a comprehensive immigration reform bill.

    "The Senate did the right thing in passing comprehensive immigration reform that realistically addresses the challenges of border security while acknowledging the necessity of finding workers to fill American jobs," said Sandherr.

    For more information, visit www.phccweb.org or www.agc.org.

    Publication date: 06/19/2006

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