We have an opportunity in Utah and the broader Intermountain region to lead the nation in fixing our broken immigration system for Dreamers, farmworkers, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders fleeing authoritarianism and natural disasters.
Recently, we joined an impressive gathering of business, political and civic leaders at the Intermountain Rising: Strengthening Our Workforce Through Bipartisan Immigration Solutions organized by the American Business Immigration Coalition to discuss proposals currently in front of Congress including the Bennett-Crapo Farm Workforce Modernization Act, the bipartisan Durbin-Graham Dream Act and the SECURE Act.
Growers and dairy producers from Utah and Idaho spoke to how acute labor shortages in our area are forcing farmers to give away their crops. We were honored to be joined by Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, who is working in tandem with Republican Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho to develop a bipartisan Senate companion bill to the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho said, “It’s the right thing to do for the workers and for the economy ... It is not amnesty. It is earned citizenship.”
The two of us focused on the vital contributions of Dreamers to our communities and economy. One of us, as president of Utah State University, has seen first-hand the successes and resiliency of Dreamers even as they struggle to overcome the additional burden of being undocumented students pursuing the American Dream.
The other one of us, as a former Republican state senator in Arizona and devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, discussed how our faith compels us to work toward fairness for young people brought here as children, who have known no country other than this one. Close to two percent of students enrolled in higher education institutions in Utah are undocumented, and there are approximately 30,000 Dreamers in Utah alone.
Even so, this is not only the morally right thing to do — it is economically crucial.
Utah and the Intermountain region have struggled with labor shortages for years, leaving employers across industries — from farming to hospitality to restaurants and healthcare — unable to find the workers they need to grow and thrive. Today, restaurants continue to shut down. In Utah, there are more jobs available than people to fill them, and casinos in Colorado can’t even get applications for open positions. Arizona expects a shortage of 150,000 construction workers by 2022, and in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Utah, the farm labor workforce shrunk by almost 37%, threatening our nation’s food supply and stifling our economic growth.
We need Utah’s Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee to support these three bipartisan immigration solutions that strengthen our workforce, bring certainty to employers and families, and help the region roar back from the pandemic.
Our current immigration system has been broken for years. These policy changes would help provide American employers the stable, legal workforce they need and give those workers the legal certainty and confidence to come out of the shadows, truly become a part of our communities, and continuing to make crucial contributions at this critical juncture in our recovery from the COVID-19 global pandemic.
We need action from Congress now, not more divisive rhetoric and fear mongering. Without public and aggressive leadership from Romney and Lee; real immigration reform may elude us yet again. Without bipartisan immigration solutions; our economy will continue to struggle, and our immigration problems will only continue to get worse.
The window for opportunity is closing for a bipartisan deal. Sens. Romney and Lee, the time to act is now.
Bob Worsley, Salt Lake City, is founder of SkyMall, a former Arizona state senator and co-chair of the American Business Immigration Coalition.
Noelle Cockett is the president of Utah State University.