The majority of local business leaders seem to agree there's a need for immigration reform, but they have varying opinions on what that means.
Results of a survey conducted by the York County Economic Alliance reveal 48 percent of the 170 respondents said the U.S. government should not deport the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants unless they have criminal records.
Respondents answered multiple choice questions and were able to choose more than one selection. About 13 percent of respondents said they were in favor of a path to legal status if certain conditions were met, 5 percent said the immigrants should not be deported, and 39 percent said the 11 million undocumented immigrants should be deported.
"This tells me it's an important issue to our members. Most members want some path to a legal status, not necessarily citizenship," said John Klinedinst, chairman of the YCEA's Business Advocacy Council.
Even those who favored deportation answered the survey's second question, he said.
The question asked, "If you support a path to citizenship, what needs to be included?"
About 85 percent of respondents said the immigrants would need to have clean criminal background checks; 80 percent said they would have to pay any fines and taxes; 66 percent said they would have to make progress toward proficiency in the English language; and 7 percent did not support a path to citizenship under any circumstances.
"I think it reflects what we're seeing in national trends," said Bob Jensenius, YCEA vice president.
Jensenius said he was most surprised by the positive results to a question about children of undocumented immigrants obtaining education.
The survey asked if otherwise qualified students, who are children of undocumented immigrants and thereby here through no doing of their own, should be able to attend post-secondary, state-related schools.
About 76 percent of respondents said yes, and 24 percent said no.
The majority also agreed the students should be able to attend at the Pennsylvania-residents rate, with 61 percent saying yes and 39 percent saying no.
Given the controversy that surrounded the DREAM Act, federal legislation introduced to provide education to alien minors, Jensenius said he was surprised by the positive response to make education available to students who are in the country through no fault of their own.
Survey results also determined a majority of respondents agreed with requiring employers to use an Internet-based eligibility verification system; that undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to get a driver's license; that undocumented workers have not tried to get a job at their companies; and that there should be an unlimited number of work visas for certain employees, including professors and researchers, advanced degree holders, and dependents of employment-based immigrants.
It was also telling that 74 percent of respondents said they think undocumented immigrants perform jobs that Americans don't want to do, Klinedinst said.
Immigrant workers typically fall into two categories: low-wage workers who help the agriculture industry and high-tech workers who find jobs in medical and science fields, he said.
Brown's Orchard & Farm Market in Loganville benefits from the help of its seasonal, immigrant workers.
"We do agree immigrant workers are willing to do the hard, tough, laborious farm work," said Dave Brown, president of Brown's Orchard.
The farm uses 25 to 30 immigrant workers from spring through the fall and a handful of immigrant workers in the winter, he said.
Having efficient, immigrant workers helps with the expenses of maintaining the orchards and allows the company to focus on its core business of selling the farm's products, Brown said.
"With immigrants following the rules, we would definitely support a path to legal status," he said.
WellSpan, which employs about 30 immigrant medical residents, is also in favor of immigration reform.
"Any reform that helps American companies get good talent to take care of their scientific needs, we're in favor of that," said Bob Batory, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for WellSpan.
Though the health system doesn't rely on undocumented immigrants for any part of its workers, WellSpan does hire foreign-born workers.
The process of getting those workers here to train at American hospitals is time-consuming and costly, taking about six months and up to $50,000. The bill is paid by both the immigrant worker and WellSpan, he said.
"The granting or approving of visas is an incredible hassle, both for the worker and the employer," Batory said.
"So, for us, the big question is what does immigration reform mean to the documented immigrant worker? If it's going to further limit or make it hard to find scientists and doctors, it could be a detriment," he said.
The YCEA will consider survey results and continue to do research before it presents an official position on the issue to lawmakers.
"Our members support some path to a legal status, but it's not a home run," Klinedinst said.
- Candy Woodall can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.