January 20, 2009

Obama’s First 100 Days and Immigration

The May 2008 immigration raid of the Agriprocessor plant in Postville IA crystallized what many already knew: The nation sorely needs an immigration policy that will address the vexing problem of some 19,000,000 illegals by one count. In fact, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents seemed to craft policy as they go along. For example, those arrested in the Postville raid were criminally charged with presenting false documentations, incarcerated, and then faced deportation while in subsequent raids, the arrested were not criminally charged but were processed for deportation. President Obama has promised to address the issue and perhaps once and for all let Americans know what to they can and what they cannot do with the illegals. If most of them will be granted immunity and be allowed to stay, for example, they will become part of the legal workforce at a time when Mr. Obama is also promising Americans a major job initiative.

The policy that will have to be developed by the President and Congress needs to address industries that have no recourse but to hire foreign labor. The meat industry is notorious for not being able to hire Americans for some of the gruesome tasks in a slaughterhouse. In the olden days immigration policy was indeed based on the needs of the US labor force. Many immigrants came to this country legally because there was a need for their craft. This was a clear message of the federal government that its first priority was to meet the needs of the US economy.

I have spoken to many in the kosher food industry who are concerned about what Obama does or does not do with immigration. Although not part of the meat industry, manufacturers often have difficulty finding employees that will work the hours and the tasks that are demanded. Will this become a priority for the Obama administration in its first 100 days? The likelihood is that it will not and that the non policy on immigration will continue for some time. In the meantime, let us hope that the kosher industry abides by the current laws and that it is not singled out until a new policy emerges.