Tom Still: Nation’s ‘Broken’ Immigration System Needs Mending To Add Workforce

There is no single answer for why the United States, Wisconsin included, is experiencing a shortage of workers in most industry sectors.

“Baby Boomers” calling it quits; fewer young people entering the workforce to replace them; troubles finding child care; COVID fatigue; and $300 per week in extra jobless benefits from the federal government — “competing with the couch” — are among commonly cited problems.

Here’s another: An immigration law deadlock that prevents many people from jumping at the chance to work.

Whether it’s on the farm, on construction sites or in high-tech firms, the need for workers is intense. People on the front lines in those sectors say a reformed immigration policy would help — if only political forces vested in the “brokenness” of the status quo would stop blocking potential compromises.

“Why hasn’t this problem been solved?” asked Reid Ribble, a former Republican congressman from Wisconsin and current CEO of the National Roofing Contractors Association. “The reason the problem has not been solved is because there’s a political advantage to each political party to not solve it.”

As one of four panelists in a June 15 forum produced by and the Wisconsin Technology Council, Ribble decried “brokenness” in the immigration system. He pointed to workers who have lived in the United States for more than 20 years under “temporary protected status” as evidence the system doesn’t work.

Ribble noted some left-leaning unions oppose expanding immigration because they believe it “steals” jobs from native-born Americans and depresses wages. One study after another has debunked those theories, he said. Some right-leaning groups claim immigrants cause more crime and add to social service burdens, which is also not borne out statistically, the speakers noted.

No one wants a free-for-all, as the status quo on the southern border demonstrates. But observers such as the June 15 panelists urged following a process that encourages legal immigration versus flying under the radar illegally.

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