Immigration Reform Center
Talking Points For Essential Worker Immigration Issues
CLCA represents approximately 2,500 licensed contractors who design, install, and maintain landscaping on residential, commercial, and public properties, including parks, schools, highways, and golf courses. California's licensed contractors, mostly small and mid-sized California-based businesses, employ more than 86,500 workers and contribute more than $5.5 billion to the state's economy.
Menu Of Topics Discussed
This document summarizes our positions on pending federal immigration reform legislation and the reasons for those positions.
1. CLCA Supports the President's Proposal on Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
We strongly support the President's recent immigration reform proposal, which will secure our national borders while establishing a realistic temporary worker program to match willing foreign workers with willing American employers to fill jobs that Americans will not do.
We commend the President for recognizing that enforcement standing alone, unaccompanied by laws that comprehensively provide legal status to millions of essential foreign workers needed by U.S. employers, will bring no change to a broken system.
His proposal would help meet the demands of a growing economy, and it would allow honest workers to provide for their families while respecting the law.
Senate and House leadership should insist that any immigration bill provide for comprehensive reform. If immigration bills go to a Conference Committee, leadership should appoint conferees who support the principle that reforms must address comprehensive solutions that address national security as well as the consequences of immigration reform on American businesses and the national economy.
2. CLCA Supports Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bills like McCain-Kennedy and Hagel.
These bills address our three key areas:
3. CLCA Opposes the Punitive Immigration Reform Bill Proposed by Rep. Sensenbrenner.
The Sensenbrenner measure stresses border enforcement to the exclusion of the comprehensive immigration reforms needed to find legal solutions for undocumented workers and their employers.
The bill imposes new mandates and sanctions on employers rather than tackle the problem in a comprehensive manner.
Enforcement "first and only" is a flawed approach that will only drive the problem of illegal immigration deeper underground.
4. CLCA Opposes Mandatory Return of Undocumented Workers Prior to Re-Entry.
Proposals that require undocumented workers to return to their country of origin for a time period before seeking legal re-entry into the United States are unworkable. These workers are simply not going to come forward and declare themselves if they would then have to leave the country.
Our national security interest is best served by providing incentives for undocumented workers to self-identify as the first step on the road to legal status.
5. CLCA Members Pay Above-Average Wages to Workers.
Wages typically paid to undocumented workers in the landscaping and construction industry are relatively high for semi-skilled and unskilled work.
Entry-level positions in landscape maintenance and construction pay at least two dollars above the minimum wage in California. With experience and promotion to supervisory positions, landscape workers typically command $15 to $20 and more per hour, plus benefits.
We support giving undocumented workers legal status so they will not be subject to exploitation by unscrupulous employers. Once foreign workers are able to exercise their legal rights under our labor laws without fear of retaliation they will be in a better position to bargain for improved wages and benefits.
Legal status for foreign workers will also help curb the underground economy, which cheats taxpayers by failing to pay employer taxes and fees and endangers workers due to a lack of workers' compensation insurance and the protections afforded by compliance with workplace safety laws.
6. CLCA Supports Reasonable Enforcement Actions Against Employers if Linked to Comprehensive Immigration Reform.
We recognize that increased penalties against employers who would knowingly hire undocumented workers must be part of any comprehensive reform package. There should be a safe harbor for good-faith mistakes, particularly if the employer must rely on government-provided data, such as a computer verification database.
7. Immigrant Labor is Essential to the Functioning of Many Service Industries and to the Overall Health of the U.S. Economy.
Employers of immigrants will tell you that these workers are some of their best and hardest-working employees, and, in many cases, that their business couldn't function without them.
In addition to landscaping and construction, reasonably priced and dependable immigrant labor is essential to restaurants, hotels, nursing homes, and scores of other businesses that need to fill jobs that Americans often don't want. Immigrant workers help keep large sectors of our economy functioning. They work hard and bring a self-starting, independent, and entrepreneurial spirit to America. Most studies show a net plus to the economy from immigrant labor with a small negative impact on those in the lowest paying jobs. These workers are helping to support our economy. Removing them would mean invading workplaces across America and disrupting business on an unprecedented scale.
The status quo is untenable, as it puts employers in a strange "don't ask, don't tell" situation where they can never be sure of their workforce, and only benefits smugglers, document fraud rings and employers who undercut their competition by breaking the law.
Landscape contractors who find it necessary to employ unskilled and semiskilled workers also find it difficult to function or grow when faced with continuing uncertainty over national immigration policy.
8. California Faces a Growing Shortage of Essential Labor.
We have an aging workforce and declining workforce participation, and job growth will continue in both higher skilled and lower skilled jobs. The landscaping industry relies in significant part on an immigrant labor force. Some of these jobs are seasonal and not attractive to American workers. Some are physically demanding or performed out in the weather. We have an aging domestic workforce, few younger Americans seeking jobs that require outdoor manual labor, and rising demand for the industry's products and services. The landscaping industry faces a real and growing shortage of workers.
The American native-born workforce is increasingly unlikely to fill less-skilled jobs. Between 1994 and 2004, the proportion of the native-born labor force age 25 - 44 fell from 63.3 percent to 52.9 percent, while the proportion of native-born workers age 25 and older with a high school diploma or less fell from 44.3 percent to 37.8 percent. The younger workforce is both shrinking, and better educated. Given these demographic realities, we need to have a program that allows landscape contractors to utilize immigrant labor when U.S. workers are not available.
Paying higher wages to attract more workers is not the answer. The demographic projections show that job growth is outstripping the supply of workers. It's not just a matter of offering landscape workers more pay. Supply and demand play a role, but there is an upper limit to how much an employer can charge for their product or service, and thus there is an upper limit to what employers can pay their employees. There really are some jobs that U.S. workers just aren't willing to do at any reasonable price.
9. CLCA Supports an Expanded Temporary Worker Program.
In addition to realistically addressing the issue of undocumented workers already in the U.S., federal immigration reform legislation must allow reasonable opportunities for employers to access essential foreign laborers in the future.
The H-2B temporary worker programs now available to our industry have an unrealistic cap and other practical impediments to wider use. As a result, legal avenues for foreign workers to fill landscaping jobs provide only a miniscule percentage of the labor force. We support provisions in the immigration reform bill that will permit foreign nationals to enter the country temporarily to fill jobs that no American workers will take.