This entire uproar about illegal immigration; I know when it started. Those damned potato-eating, whiskey-drinking, backsliding Irish. First they moved into New York and Boston, and then they thought that after helping to build the railroads across this country that they could move any place they pleased. Oh, they were hard workers all right: Worked so hard that they were taking jobs away from good law-abiding American citizens.

Substitute for the word Irish in the above racial profile with any other nationality - German, Japanese, Pakistani, Chinese, Italian – and the story is the same. This melting pot of a nation grew on the backs of people that came here seeking a new life. Many came here illegally and soon thereafter became legal citizens. In retrospect, some were legally brought here against their own will. The African-American culture can trace that story all too well. However, every new culture that crossed our borders has gone through phases of abuse and rejection.

Somehow, it seems strange that our nation is generally much more concerned today with immigrant labor than it was a few years ago. In 1980, it is estimated that approximately 3 million people of the 226.5 million U.S. population were in this country illegally - about 1.3 percent. As of May 2006, the number of illegal immigrants is estimated to be about 12 million out of 298,725,437 people - about 4 percent. Sure, that's an increased number of illegal immigrants. But, it's not a crazy number. We can live with it.

Want to know what crazy really is?

We have allowed our government to create layer upon layer of bureaucracy that has screwed up otherwise normal immigration processes in this country. The real question is why are there more illegal immigrants? Read Steve Saunders comments on page 28 and you'll find out how ridiculously long it takes for someone to become legal. No wonder people come here under a veil of darkness, hoping that someday they can become legal citizens - if they can ever figure out the complicated mess they've gotten themselves into.

The craziness doesn't stop. Look into the proposed immigration legislation pending on Capitol Hill and you'll find that it once included a provision that would hold your company responsible if another company you subcontract with uses illegal immigrants. For example, if your HVAC business subcontracts with an electrical company that uses illegal immigrants, you could be held liable for fines and penalties. Thankfully, that may have been headed off a few days ago. However, depending upon the outcome, such fines and penalties could amount into the five-figure range, and the possibility of being charged as a felon is on the table.

Suddenly, a few more illegal immigrants might sound less threatening than a bunch of U.S. senators and congressmen who are rallying behind an emotional issue that they know will draw out more voters at election time. (Ironically, all the pending legislation will likely languish in committee well into 2007, just in time to rear its head again for a major election year. In the meantime, legislators will move their attention to things like how and when to leave Iraq, and gay marriage – more incendiary issues to attract voter attention.)


Is the flow of people into this country so much more rapid than it was during any other exodus brought about by famine, religious persecution, or economic poverty? No.

Is the resistance to immigrants of other cultures in our workforce today any different than in past years? No.

Is the HVAC industry ready to help make it easier to attract people to join the dwindling ranks of technicians and installers?

The current shortfall is estimated by the U.S. Department of Labor to be about 20,000-22,000 men and women needed annually to fill vacancies in the repair and installation ranks of HVACR. The time is now for this industry to think about the big picture. Where are these people going to come from? Why isn't the "legal" working population more interested in becoming an HVACR professional?

Emotionally charged issues that polarize our nation make good copy for newspapers, and make for interesting debate on the Senate floor. But when it comes time to get the job done, this industry might want to focus its attention on fixing the real problem in our country.

Sure, illegal immigration is a problem. However, don't be duped into taking your eye off the ball. Speak to your legislators about cutting the red tape in not only the immigration process but in a multitude of other government programs and the largesse that has gotten woefully out of hand. If they won't listen, vote them out. You are paying for a historical accumulation of their mistakes every day.

Publication date: 06/19/2006