Illinois needs more immigrant workers

Chicago
By Chicago 5 Min Read

Landscaping is an ever growing business in Illinois. More and more dual-income families don’t have the time to tend to their landscaping, so they are turning to professionals like those in my trade group to make their properties not only beautiful but environmentally sustainable. It’s a well-paid industry where hard workers can move into supervision and management very quickly, but that means we need a steady supply of entry-level workers to jump in and learn the ropes.

In that respect, we are very similar to many industries in our booming state. At the moment we may be classified lower than other states facing more critical worker shortages, but that could change quickly. Just a year ago, coming out of COVID-19, our state was under much worse conditions from the point of view of the workforce than it is now.

That’s why I’m merging entries with those from my own and other industries, as well as aa growing chorus of U.S. governors and senators, urging the Biden administration to allow states to issue temporary work permits to as many undocumented immigrants, both long-term and newcomers, as states need to meet their workforce requirements. This is something a presidential administration has the authority to do if it will result in a significant public benefit to the United States

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And it sure would. Allowing Illinois and other states to opt for a lawful, orderly, and efficient temporary program to meet workforce needs in critical industries would be a huge boon to employers, immigrant workers, and American consumers alike.

Governors and employers on both sides have long advocated immigration reforms that provide safe, legal, and efficient pathways to legal status while maintaining national security on our borders in order to help our economy. This would do just that: remove the incentive for irregular border crossings if immigrants can apply for more temporary permits in states dealing with labor shortages. Immigrants who have been in the United States for years should also be considered for these permits.

Our current visa options for immigrant workers serve the economy and are outdated. Dairy producers, for example, cannot apply for farm worker visas because dairies operate year-round and not seasonal. That does not make sense.

This reform approach would make a lot of sense for Illinois, in particular. We have the fifth largest Hispanic population in the nation. Of course, some of these people are US-born and full citizens, and many more are lawful permanent residents. But very many are undocumented immigrants who have come here to work hard.

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Expanding temporary work permits during the labor shortage crisis we have been facing for years would not only allow my industry and others to plan for long-term growth, but it would also reduce the black economy and improve wages and benefits for all workers. Let’s face it: Congress has failed in its duty to address immigration reform.

This country was built to give immigrants a fair chance for their hard work. For too long, Washington has failed to give America’s business community the legal and protected immigrant workforce it desperately needs if we are to remain the strongest and most viable nation on the planet. That’s why we’re calling on our current administration to flex its muscles — regardless of Congress, which failed to do its job and pass immigration reforms — so that employers in many industries and in many states can get the jobs they need to not only survive today, but thrive tomorrow.

And we also ask Governor JB Pritzker, Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, and all of our elected representatives in Washington, DC to join their voices in the direction of the White House on this. We’ll all be better off for it.

Scott Grams is the executive director of the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association.

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