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Calif. Employers Are Eager for Immigration Reform

April 17, 2013

Shan Li, Diana Marcum

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Central Valley farmers, Southern California bankers and Silicon Valley
executives have all struggled to find workers -- and they say an outdated
immigration policy has been to blame.

They're all hoping that a bipartisan group of U.S. senators will have the answer
when it unveils its plan, as early as this week, to overhaul federal immigration
laws.

Their stance: Reform couldn't come quickly enough.

"What's at stake is the future of our economy, whether we can remain the most
entrepreneurial nation," said Steve Case, co-founder of America Online and now
chairman of investment firm Revolution. He called immigration a "key reason why
America has been innovative and entrepreneurial and has had the leading economy
in the world."

The danger of not having a viable immigration plan is evident to Steve Spate.
The Central Valley raisin grower whose farm is just west of Selma said he has
struggled with a perennial labor shortage.

"When you're standing on the edge of your fields in the morning and the rains
are coming and not enough workers show up, when your livelihood and your ability
to make payments on your house and your equipment are on the line, you'll take
anybody you can find," he said.

Foreign workers affect nearly every aspect of the state's economy.

Those highly educated work in Silicon Valley start-ups and tech giants such as
Facebook and Google. Low-wage workers toil in farms, serve food in restaurants
and work in hotels. The construction industry employs a number of immigrants to
build homes.

The sweeping bill tries to fix huge problems plaguing the U.S. and its inflow of
foreign workers.

Crafted by four Democratic and four Republican senators known as the Gang of
Eight, the bill is aimed at creating an immigration system for the 21st century.

It offers, for instance, a 13-year pathway to citizenship for many of the 11
million immigrants already living here illegally. And it allocates billions of
dollars -- including $3 billion for increased surveillance -- to tighten border
security.

Under the bill, more foreigners with in-demand job skills will be able to get
visas; currently those with family members already here are heavily favored.

Part of the bill would create new guest worker programs for farmhands and
low-wage workers. Another section raises the cap on temporary high-skilled visas
and creates a "start-up" visa for entrepreneurs who want to found companies in
the U.S.

"It will be a tremendous boost to California's economy," said Sung Won Sohn, an
economics professor at Cal State Channel Islands. "We will be able to get the
right people from overseas and utilize them for the benefit of the economy."

But the bill still faces many hurdles, even after months of negotiations among
the eight senators. Opponents of any reform that offers a road to citizenship
for undocumented workers in the U.S. can kill the bill. An immigration overhaul
attempt under President George W. Bush in 2007, the last time a serious effort
was made to retool the system, died on the Senate floor.

But this time around, public opinion may be on the bill's side. Nearly
two-thirds of Americans support giving undocumented workers a way to attain
citizenship, according to a recent survey by the Brookings Institution and the
Public Religion Research Institute. Sixty-eight percent polled say that a
combination of enforcement and a path to citizenship was the best cure for the
country's illegal immigration problems.

Many California businesses welcomed the outline of the bill released Tuesday.

Farmers already struggling with a slowdown in workers from Mexico -- brought on
by a border crackdown, faltering economic recovery and drug violence -- were
hopeful the bill could widen the pool of laborers.

"The ones from Mexico are here to work," said Ken Shinkawa, a raisin grower in
Caruthers. "They don't fool around. They just want to make their money and go
home."

In the past, Shinkawa said, he was forced to hire mostly undocumented workers.
He has tried hiring U.S. employees, but that has never worked out. One year, he
said, the Fresno residents he brought on couldn't pick and stole his air
conditioner.

And lately, he's had trouble finding anyone to work his fields.

High-tech firms, which have lobbied hard for immigration reform, say the bill
would bring much-needed highly skilled workers and entice international students
who attend U.S. colleges to stay after graduation. Mark Zuckerberg, chief
executive of Facebook Inc., even joined forces with executives from Google,
Yahoo and other tech giants to form a new initiative called Fwd.us to push for
reform.

"Immigration is innovation," said Dean Garfield, chief executive of the
Information Technology Industry Council, an advocacy group for tech firms.
"Every day that goes by without immigration reform is another day when new jobs
and new industries start in a foreign country."

Already, about 35% to 40% of Silicon Valley's workers are foreign, said Stephen
Levy, director of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy. He
said guest workers can help plug a gap in California as highly skilled baby
boomers retire.

The finance and banking industry is also eager to hire workers such as
mathematicians and computer experts to create programs to maximize trading and
fight cyber attacks, said Scott Talbott, senior lobbyist for the Financial
Services Roundtable, which represents banks, insurers and investment firms.

Los Angeles-based City National Bank already employs immigrants from Russia,
Mexico, India and elsewhere, said Chief Executive Russell Goldsmith. He said one
of the bank's biggest strengths is being able to attract "some of the best and
brightest individuals from all over the world."

"We need and do hire people born elsewhere in information services and
technology," he said. "But you'll find people born elsewhere throughout the
bank."

Times staff writers Jessica Guynn, E. Scott Reckard, Ricardo Lopez, Andrew
Khouri, Tiffany Hsu and Adolfo Flores contributed to this report.

___

(c)2013 the Los Angeles Times

Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: Copyright Los Angeles Times 2013

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