By Rhina Guidos | Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) — Everyone is feeling the pain: at the gas pump, at the grocery store, in the electric bill.
On May 11, the government announced that average prices for consumer goods and services rose 8.3% from what they were a year ago.
Some factors include the pandemic and Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and some say it’s also an effect of the decreasing number of immigrants allowed into the country.
A May 7 story from The Associated Press said that by some estimates, the U.S. has 2 million fewer immigrants “than it would have if the pace had stayed the same, helping power a desperate scramble for workers in many sectors, from meatpacking to homebuilding, that is also contributing to supply shortages and price increases.”
The story said that “after immigration to the United States tapered off during the Trump administration — then ground to a near complete halt for 18 months during the coronavirus pandemic — the country is waking up to a labor shortage partly fueled by that slowdown.”
Labor shortages have contributed to slowing down the supply of goods in the country, to a loss of crops for U.S. farmers because they can’t find workers, and reduced hours of operations at restaurants and retail stores.
“We have people who want to work, standing at the border. We need them to come and help us. Restaurants are opening fewer days, opening fewer tables, hotels aren’t servicing rooms like they used to. I mean, we’re in dire need,” former Arizona state Sen. Bob Worsley said in a September 2021 immigration conference sponsored by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Georgetown University Law School and the Migration Policy Institute.
Worsley, a Republican, along with other members of the American Business Immigration Coalition, have voiced frustrations over the lack of political progress in Congress on immigration issues that could provide the U.S. economy with some respite, particularly as it emerges from two years of the coronavirus pandemic.
Republicans like Worsley have been increasingly in favor of measures that would move along migrants through the border, largely because of economic factors. Democrats have made, by and large, a humanitarian argument saying that many come to the U.S. seeking protection from dangers at home.
When participants of Hispanic Catholic ministry gathered in the Washington area for their sixth Raices y Alas (Roots and Wings) national congress in late April, they took part in an advocacy day lobbying lawmakers from both sides for immigration reform.
The event at the U.S. Capitol included a news conference with two Republicans, Daniel Garza of the LIBRE Initiative and Congressman Dan Newhouse of Washington state, accompanied by one Democrat, Congressman Salud Carbajal of California.
“We come in prayer to ask members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats, to work together to create solutions,” said Washington Auxiliary Bishop Mario E. Dorsonville, chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, who gathered with the group. “Immigration reform cannot wait any longer.”
The USCCB, along with many Catholic groups, have long advocated for immigration reform with both major political parties in the U.S. because responding to the vulnerable is what the Gospel calls Christians to do, bishops and Catholic groups have said of their efforts.
Even as politicians on both sides of the political aisle say they want a solution, for different reasons, increasing polarization in the U.S. seems to impede negotiations.
“We have a lot of job openings and many people who want to come here and have a better life. The math is pretty simple but having the political will to do such things is a different story altogether,” wrote Indianapolis political commentator Abdul-Hakim Shabazz in a May 11 opinion piece in Indiana’s Kokomo Tribune daily newspaper.
He discussed the need to allow high-skilled and low-skilled immigrants in to alleviate not only inflation but the country’s shrinking workforce.
“Now, this is where the moaning and gnashing of teeth about ‘securing the border’ kicks in. However, no one can explain to me what that means or, for that matter, what a ‘secure border’ looks like,” he wrote.
“However, suppose we want to address our worker shortage which is one of the causes of inflation because employers have to pay more.,” he continued. “In that case, we need to address our immigration and make it easier for people to come here and get the jobs the rest of us are not going to do.”
Politicians such as Newhouse and Carbajal see a road toward bipartisanship on immigration issues in the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which has passed in the House of Representatives twice with Republican backing.
It would allow farmworkers who are in the country without legal permission to apply for a legal temporary immigration status and then permanent residency, eventually leading to citizenship.
The bill would only address legalization for a small group of the more than 10 million estimated migrants who are in the country without permission and alleviate only some of the economic problems. But some hope that responding to the nation’s agricultural woes with immigrants as a solution would open a needed bipartisan window to collaborate on other efforts.
“The push to create a path to legal status for farmworkers has gotten additional attention amid broader worker shortages, supply chain snafus and new stress to the global food system stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” said an April 14 story from Bloomberg Law saying that the wheels are moving, if slowly, in Congress, to strike a deal before midterm elections in November.
The Washington-based publication Roll Call in a May 9 article said Republicans in the House were looking to those in the Senate to garner the 60 votes the farmworker proposal needs to advance.
But there’s fear that politicians will back away depending on what happens at the southern border when the government lifts the Title 42 health measure May 23. It will allow in those asking for asylum, something that has been greatly limited during the pandemic.
But some worry that the lifting of the order will be an opportunity to stoke political fires, painting the situation as a crisis and dealing a death knell to what remains of bipartisan efforts on immigration and any relief migrants might be able to provide.