A coalition of business, political, and refugee-rights groups in south-central Kentucky is calling on Congress to pass immigration reform.
As part of a so-called national “Day of Action”, representatives from various backgrounds spoke Wednesday in Bowling Green about the need for Congressional leaders and the Obama Administration to get reform passed this year.
Barren County dairy farmer H.H. Barlow, a presidential appointee to the U.S. Board for International Food and Agriculture Development, said many Americans don’t understand the impact immigrant labor has on sectors such as the agriculture industry.
“I hate the word ‘criminals’, or ‘illegal aliens’—I don’t like that term. They’re workers. They’re performing an essential service to our country,” Barlow said.
The Barren County farmer said he speaks to his elected representatives about the need for immigration reform each time he sees them. Barlow believes that reform will not only benefit immigrants, but also the U.S. economy.
“They partake in many of our social services, like the hospitals, and their children are in our schools. And I think we need to assess them some kind of taxation—although I hate that work—I think they should pay something for the opportunity to work here. I want them to work here. But I think they should pay their share.”
According to Barlow, American farms wouldn’t be able to function if they had to rely solely on U.S.-born laborers.
Bowling Green International Center executive director Albert Mbanfu said he wants undocumented immigrants to be able to step out from the shadow economy. He said some employers withhold wages or pay undocumented workers well below the minimum wage because they know the victims can’t speak up for fear of being deported.
“Some of the employers will want to take advantage of the situation and hire these undocumented people and pay them even less than the required minimum wage, just because that these individuals cannot complain about it, so they try to exploit these undocumented people.”
Mbanfu said he also thinks lawmakers and the Obama Administration should work to secure the country’s southern border to prevent more immigrants from illegally entering the U.S.
Former WKU College Republican chairman Dalton Workman said while he understands GOP members of Congress are against an amnesty for those who came to the country illegally, he personally favors the idea of creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that would take a number of years to complete.