Just like their elected leaders, local employers and residents have mixed feelings on illegal immigration, while some area students continued the protests of this past weekend by walking out of their classrooms.
Bob Lauchland, president of the Lodi District Grape Growers Association, said it's already hard to find willing workers for the area's vineyards and some of the proposed immigration laws will make it even harder.
"The labor market was getting tight toward the end of the season, and it's getting harder every year," he said Monday.
Lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are currently wrangling over proposed immigration reforms, and hundreds of thousands of people across the state took to the streets during the weekend to oppose some of that legislation.
Lauchland said it's unreasonable to expect farmers to provide border enforcement by ensuring the legal status of everyone they need to hire. He said he supports a guest worker program to ensure he has a steady stream of labor when his grapes need to be picked.
According to a study on unauthorized immigrants by the Pew Hispanic Center, based in Washington, D.C., 6.3 million illegal immigrants were employed in 2004, and nearly 14 million people are part of families in which the head of the household is an unauthorized immigrant.
The center found that 33 percent of those people were working in the service industry, 17 percent in the production and repair fields, 16 percent in construction and just 3 percent in agriculture.
Steve Diede, president of Diede Construction, said the construction industry too is facing a shortage of skilled workers and immigrants may be the best solution to fill that need.
He said nearly all of his employees are U.S. citizens, but does believe stringent immigration reforms could make a small field of skilled construction workers even smaller.
"In the construction industry overall yes, I think it definitely would," he said.
But Diede said one benefit of immigration reform would be if the government could start collecting taxes of the wages of immigrant workers.
Lodi resident Miguel Mora said illegal immigration will continue to be a challenge no matter what the government may do.
"Illegal immigrants will still find a way to get in even if we try to stop them." he said. "There seems to be less protection than needed at borders all over the world."
Mora said he grew up near the border in Yuma, Ariz. and has seen immigrants treated badly, but still said border security should be improved.
"Border regulations should be more enforced and if that means to build a barrier, then they should use our tax dollars and get it started," he said.
The proposed barrier would include hundreds of miles of fortified fencing with vehicle barriers as well as increased camera surveillance.
Helen Doxater, also of Lodi, questioned the need of such a barrier.
"What good would it do to build a barrier and keep illegal immigrants out?" she said. "They will always find a way in. It is just not a good solution."
The barrier is included in legislation passed by the U.S. House last year. The bill would make it a felony to be an illegal alien in the United States as well as reinforce border controls. Supporters say the nation's current immigration laws need a stronger backbone to provide greater security in a time of international terrorism.
Congressman Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, voted for the bill in December of 2005.
At the time, he said in a post-9/11 world border security was paramount.
"Today we strengthened our commitment to our citizens. We've taken the necessary steps to ensure protection from the daily threats of terrorists," Pombo, said in a statement released after the vote.
The congressman could not be reached for comment late Monday afternoon.
Groups such as the United Farm Workers have been organizing protests, which were continued Monday by students.
About 100 Central Valley students suspended for staying out of class during an anti-immigration rally and will return to classes on Wednesday.
Students at Ceres High School were originally given a five-day suspension, but protests from parents brought the punishment down to three days.
Neither of Lodi's two high school's reported any walk-outs on the first day of classes following spring break.
Students had permission from the school to walk out on their first two classes on Friday for a rally held on school grounds, said Walt Hanline, superintendent for the Ceres Unified School District.
"Kids were given the opportunity to express their point. We wanted them to exercise their right to free speech," Hanline said.
When school officials tried to usher about 350 students back to class after second period, many stayed outside, he said.
Ceres High School students hyped the rally through the popular social network MySpace.com.
The Associated Press and staff photographer Angelina Gervasi contributed to this report.
Immigration reform at a glance
Guest worker programs: President George Bush supports a program that would allow illegal immigrants to remain the country while working, but would establish a deadline for them to leave the nation after three years. The policy has support in the Senate, including Judiciary Chairman Arlen Spector, R-Penn, as well as other senators, who, unlike Bush, propose illegal immigrants should have a chance to become citizens after paying a fine, back taxes and learn English and other requirements.
House Bill 4437: Passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, the bill would strengthen border patrol as well as make being in the United States illegally a felony. The legislation also includes funding for increased fencing and other barriers along the southern U.S. border and would not allow any immigrant convicted of an aggravated felony, child abuse, using forged citizenship documents or domestic violence from becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. After passing with a 239 to 182 vote, the bill was introduced to the Senate in late January and has been referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. The bill makes no mention of guest worker programs.
Senate Bill 2454: Introduced by the Senate Majority Leader , Bill Frist, R-Tenn., also would increase fencing and other barriers along the southern border and also places greater responsibility on employers to not knowingly hire or recruit a unauthorized immigrant or anyone without confirming their legal status.
- Source: Library of Congress, News-Sentinel staff.
First published: Tuesday, March 28, 2006