Several industry organizations have come out in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, which, as of press time, is still being tackled by the Senate (S.2611). The bill is described as a compromise that combines tougher border patrol and established law enforcement with a humane treatment of illegal immigrants.

A recent member survey of the National Federation of Independent Business Research Foundation reports that 90 percent of NFIB small-business owners believe illegal immigration is a problem (70 percent rank it as a “very serious” or “serious” problem). But members were divided on which solution would best address the issue.

“As Congress debates this issue, it is important that they take into account how any legislation will affect small-business owners and the economy,” Executive Vice President of NFIB Dan Danner said in a release.

The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors-National Association believes it is critical to ensure an adequate supply of skilled labor and hard-working immigrants to help address the industry's labor shortage. PHCC supports the bill as it was reached in a deal before Easter break. The agreement (which was not settled before the Congress holiday on April 7) did address immigration in a comprehensive manner - enforcement of established laws, increased border security, and the establishment of a guest worker program. “It is a pragmatic approach to immigration,” explains Lake Coulson, PHCC vice president of government relations.

If the legislation passes, roughly 12 million illegal immigrants would have to go through background checks to receive their immigration papers. In addition, there is a “touchback” clause that says undocumented immigrants in the United States for two to five years would need to travel back to a port-of-entry on the U.S. border to apply for guest-worker status.

The Associated General Contractors of America supports this “path to earned legalization.”

“PHCC doesn't feel this bill is 'amnesty',” Coulson says, which is the concern of many opposed to this legislation. “It still requires individuals wishing to work in the U.S. or become citizens to pay taxes, have a job, apply for a worker visa, and enroll in English classes.”

President George W. Bush agrees: a temporary worker program should not provide amnesty.

Granting amnesty unfairly allows those who break the law to jump ahead of people who play by the rules and wait in the citizenship line, the president discussed at a recent naturalization ceremony.

Unfortunately, the agency responsible for conducting the immigration background checks is the Citizenship and Immigration Service, which is part of the Homeland Security Department. The CIS still has a backlog of over 1 million immigration applications, and adding an additional 12 million could overload the agency.

PHCC has encouraged its members to write letters to their state senators to encourage them to vote for the comprehensive approach to immigration. “There's a delicate balance between increasing enforcement and creating a beneficial policy toward workers.

“PHCC wants to see comprehensive reform passed for the sake of the construction industry,” Coulson says.

Coulson will moderate a panel on immigration issues Sept. 27 at this year's Network '06 at The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors' Annual Business meeting in conjunction with ISH North America in Chicago, Sept. 28-30.