Left to right: Brent Olmstead and Ivan Castillo
This isn't the first time that Brent Olmstead, president of Milk Producers of Idaho and executive director of the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform, and Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Ivan Castillo have called on Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform
, but there's no denying that the most recent plea—a special section running in Nov. 19th's edition of the Washington Times
and individual media events across the country—comes at a unique political moment.
Congressional Republicans retook the U.S. Senate during the Nov. 5 midterm elections; on the campaign trail, many of them indicated an interest in some kind of immigration reform.
"Republicans have control of the Senate. They need to live up to the promises they made in the election and fix [the U.S. immigration system]," Olmstead said.
But Congress may not have time to move on immigration reform on its own, and President Barack Obama has indicated that he will take executive action
to provide temporary protections to millions of undocumented immigrants Thursday, Nov. 20.
"Legislative action is always preferable, but we have waited for Congress to act and the Congress has not acted. The president has waited," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told the Washington Post.
Nevertheless, Olmstead and Castillo told reporters this morning at the Milk Producers of Idaho office in Boise that the people who have waited for immigration the longest are immigrants themselves, and that giving some kind of legal status to undocumented workers would be a boon for Idaho and the country as a whole.
"When you give people the opportunity to come out of the shadows, you give people the opportunity to help this country," Castillo said.
According to Olmstead, there are permits available for an additional 40,000 head of cattle across the state that aren't being used because of a labor shortage, and the dairy industry isn't the only sector of the economy that would benefit from a system that welcomes, rather than discourages, migrant labor. He suggested that reform might include a guest worker program, enhanced border security, work permits renewable in the United States through employers, English language learning and an increase in the number of visas available to highly educated or skilled immigrants, like those with specialized training of Ph.Ds. He cited a double standard within the current immigration system that privileges some applicants at the expense of others.
"There's a visa to bring a ballerina into this country, but there isn't a visa to work on agricultural supply," he said.
While immigration reform is a hot political topic with economic implications, the U.S. immigration system constitutes a human rights crisis. Castillo offered an anecdote about an acquaintance whom he encountered at WalMart shopping for his friends and family who were too frightened of immigration officials to appear in public. According to Castillo, that fear prevents even documented workers and citizens from fully participating in U.S. economic, political and social life.
"We all know someone who doesn't have papers," he said. "Political leaders need to know that Hispanics are here to stay."