- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Hispanic business owners are rallying for an immigration reform law that will not send illegal aliens, on whom they rely to fill their lowest-paying jobs, back to their home countries.

Members of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce met yesterday in the District for the organization’s annual legislative conference, which included a session on immigration reform.

“The country does need immigrant workers,” said Massey Villareal, chairman of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation and president and chief executive officer of Precision Task Group, a Houston technology firm. “If they’re paying taxes, seeking the American dream, following our laws and not criminals, they should have the right to apply for citizenship.”

The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said it does not support blanket amnesty but wants illegal aliens working in the United States to have an opportunity to apply for temporary worker programs or citizenship if they pass a criminal check and have years of work experience in the United States.

“We don’t want a situation in which a company invests millions of dollars, using a guest-worker program, to build industry, then after a certain number of years, they have to go back to his or her country. Where is the incentive for the industry or for the company?” said Guillermo Meneses, a U.S. Hispanic Chamber spokesman.

Business owners are concerned that stricter immigration laws will make it more difficult to fill service-industry jobs and will impose fines on businesses that inadvertently hire illegals.

“There’s going to be a heavy burden on small businesses,” Mr. Villareal said.

Immigration reform is of particular concern in Southwestern border towns, said Cindy Ramos-Davidson, chief executive officer of the El Paso, Texas, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re the first to champion stronger border security — this is our own back yard — but not at the expense of crippling small businesses,” Ms. Ramos-Davidson said. “The politicians have lost sight of the fact this is a security issue and it’s become about not letting people in from the southern border.”

She said businesses in El Paso, 10 minutes from the Mexican town of Juarez, are concerned about proposed fines on those who hire illegals who appear to have the proper documentation.

“All you have is what an employee tells you,” Ms. Ramos-Davidson said. “Even [if they show documentation], you don’t know whether it’s real or forged.”

Mexicans can earn nearly three times as much money working illegally in a U.S. restaurant as they can in their native country, said Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, an energy broker and president and chief executive officer of the McAllen, Texas, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. McAllen is seven miles from the Mexican border.

“The majority of the dirty jobs — working in the back, sweeping floors and cutting the grass — most American citizens don’t want those jobs,” she said. “Not only do they do these jobs but they do them well. Of course, there are some people who come over for the wrong reasons, but the majority of them are hardworking, trustworthy, very productive people.”

Many companies, no matter whom they employ, are dependent in some way on the service and hospitality industries, which commonly are filled with immigrants, legal or not, said Michael Barrera, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“If you shut down these industries, you shut down the businesses that rely on these industries,” he said. “It’s important that we look how this affects workers and consumers.”

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