The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Farm Bureau stood side-by-side with immigrant advocates Thursday to ask the U.S. Senate to pass immigration reform being considered this week. The organizations say they need the workers.
Farm Bureau has long-favored a fix to the country’s guest worker program. But Tennessee president Lacy Upchurch now says the agriculture industry needs something more permanent.
“We think that it’s a lot better to have a legal workforce that’s verifiable that farmers can depend on.”
Lacy says immigrants are often the only ones willing to do backbreaking work like harvesting tobacco.
The Tennessee Chamber of Commerce wants to make sure companies can recruit outside the U.S., especially for hard-to-fill technical jobs. Wes Blumenshine of Nashville-based Caterpillar Financial says it’s not enough just to get temporary workers on special visas.
“They’re not going to be as committed. They’re not going to be as loyal. They’re not going to get involved in the community because they’re at risk of leaving.”
These business groups are encouraging Tennessee’s two Republican senators to support the so-called “gang of eight” bill, which includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. They paid for a poll that found 58 percent of Tennesseans would be more likely to vote for a candidate who helped the legislation pass.
A Vanderbilt poll conducted last month found Tennesseans fairly evenly split on whether undocumented workers should be allowed to apply for citizenship or forced to leave the U.S.
In Tennessee, 567 people responded to the poll between June 5-7. Almost two thirds of Tennesseans at least “somewhat support” the bill once it’s explained to them. A strong majority also believe immigrants should fulfill certain requirements like learning English and passing a background check before they can become citizens.