Immigration reform is like the Seattle Mariners baseball team winning the World Series.
Every year, politicians say next year will be the year, according to Dan Fazio, the Washington Farm Labor Association's director. He spoke to about 70 people at the Pasco Chamber of Commerce meeting Monday.
While the immigration problem has a simple fix, figuring out how to get it in place is difficult, Fazio said. That fix includes a useable guest worker program, he said.
The federal government also needs to adjust the status of the undocumented workers already here, by having a program or process for current undocumented immigrants to receive a temporary work card or full citizenship, he said.
And the E-Verify system needs to be upgraded so that employers can check someone's ability to work in the country before hiring them, Fazio said. Workers can appeal if there is an error in the system.
The electronic system is provided through a partnership between the Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration. It verifies the information on an I-9 form.
If all of that isn't possible, then legalizing children who came into the country when very young and creating a fix for agricultural workers would help, Fazio said.
Immigration reform is important because agriculture is the largest economic driver in Franklin County, he said. About 70 percent of the agricultural work force in the county is undocumented or fraudulently documented, he said.
Immigrants help fill the gap between the number of unskilled workers needed for certain jobs and Americans or legal residents willing to do them, Fazio said.
"Immigrants have classically been an economic engine in the country," he said.
On the West Coast, farmers hire undocumented workers, he said. On the East Coast, they use the federal H-2A temporary agricultural program, which is a complex process. The work visa is one of the hardest to get.
A cost-effective guest worker program is needed to get a legal and stable work force for agriculture, Fazio said.
A lot of people from other countries want to come to the U.S. to work and have their version of the American dream, Fazio said.
If a Mexican farmer gets paid $8 to $9 a day and knows he could make $100 a day if he was working in Washington, then he's going to do something about it, Fazio said.
"Jobs are the magnet for illegal immigration," he said.
Workers have not committed a crime by being in the country without the correct status, Fazio said. And the U.S. is as much at fault for not finding a solution to a problem officials have known about for two decades.
Instead of a fix, Fazio said people are working on cleaning up the results, like identity theft when an undocumented immigrant uses someone else's Social Security number to get a job.
And U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's audits of I-9 forms isn't accomplishing anything, Fazio said. ICE notifies employers of technical errors on a form, which is required to establish an employee's eligibility to work in the U.S. Anyone who can't legally work in the country is fired, but they aren't deported.
Just offering citizenship to the undocumented workers and paying them more to do the same jobs will not solve the problem, Fazio said. Farmers here have to compete internationally, and Washington farmers already pay the highest wages for agriculture in the country.