PROVO — If you think immigration reform doesn’t have anything to do with you, think again the next time you look at your dinner plate.
It is possible an immigrant worker played a role in getting the food you are eating from the farm, to the store and possibly even on to your plate if you are eating at a local restaurant.
That realization was the inspiration behind a roundtable discussion held Monday at Communal in Provo among farmers, industry representatives and staffers from the offices of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah.
The meeting revolved around what is happening in Utah’s farms and businesses, and in Washington, to give all the interested parties perspective on the politically charged topic.
“It is costing Utah’s ranchers tens of millions,” said Sterling Brown, vice president of public policy for the Utah Farm Bureau, when speaking on the nation’s current immigration laws. “This needs to be resolved. Whether it is in one bite at a time or comprehensive, we’ll take it.”
The farmers in the room agreed.
Steve Osguthorpe, who brings in migrant workers to work as sheep herders for his operation, said the immigration discussion in Washington impacts his business, as he is unable to find American workers for the jobs he needs filled.
Osguthorpe said he has posted job openings for sheep herders for 16 years in five states — following federal rules that then allow him to have migrant workers brought in — and never has had an American apply for the position. He said his business depends on migrant workers and it would hurt if he is unable to bring in the workforce he needs to run his farm.
Jake Harward, of Harward Farms in Springville, concurred with Osguthorpe. He said times have changed from when farms could hire the local high-school kids to come pick fruit. He said the farm has struggled to attract local applicants, despite paying well above the minimum wage, as he said younger generations aren’t motivated to work on a farm anymore.
“I can’t train them or motivate them to do it,” Harward said.
In addition to farmers, representatives from Utah’s manufacturers, grocers and restaurants also expressed concerns about the current state of immigration policies in the nation.
Dave Davis, with the Utah Food Industry Association and the Utah Retail Merchants Association, said the businesses he represents are impacted by the immigration situation. They depend on the federal government’s E-Verify system to ensure they are hiring legal immigrants but feel the system has failed.
Davis described situations where businesses have used E-Verify, only to then be raided by federal officers searching for undocumented immigrants.
He stated if the businesses use the system they should be able to do so with a certain degree of surety that they are hiring individuals that have legal status in the country. Right now, however, Davis said that certainty doesn’t exist with E-Verify.
Davis also said businesses should be given some legal protection from the federal government if they use E-Verify to vet their employees, but that protection does not exist at this time.
“It’s getting better,” he said. “But they need to be able to trust the results that come back.”
Wade Garrett, who works in Chaffetz’s office, explained to roundtable attendees that Washington is looking at immigration. He pointed out that Chaffetz had an immigration bill passed in a previous session of Congress that would have opened up more visas for high-skilled workers. The bill stalled in the Senate.
He explained that Chaffetz is interested in seeing progress made on the issue, but that the Congressman would not support anything that would provide “amnesty” for those who came into the country illegally.