Digging Deeper


On blue cards, Red States and immigration's effect on business

Immigrant workers picking green beans. (BigStock photo)
Immigrant workers picking green beans. (BigStock photo)

Ah May Day, the perfect time to talk Red States and blue cards.

On this International Workers Day, it’s interesting to note that the pro-business flank of the Republican Party is now advocating relaxing immigration standards. It’s not as political as it is pragmatic – businesses need the workers for the low-paying jobs many Americans don’t want to do.  

Already, the Gang of Eight’s bipartisan immigration plan has cleared a hurdle, reaching a proposal on how to keep the much-needed farmworkers in this country.

Earlier this month, a plan was announced that would give undocumented immigrants – who make up 53 percent of the 1 million farmworkers here – the chance to start down the path to citizenship with a “blue card.”

A shade away from green, the blue card would give farmworkers illegally in the U.S. the ability to apply for permanent residency. Meant to be faster than applying for a green card, the blue card would require at least two years of farm work and a commitment to stay in an agricultural job for another five years.

When Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat, announced the deal, she said it was a compromise between growers and farm labor unions.

And this pro-immigrant feeling by business leaders isn’t just growing in Washington – it’s being cultivated out here in the Red States.

Last week, I learned during the Institute for Justice and Journalism’s “Immigration in the Heartland” conference that a group of Oklahoma interests are attempting to “spin,” as one official said, the issue of immigration into one that is more “pro-growth.”  

Robert Ruiz, a board member of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, said groups know they can get some leverage in the state legislature if they cast the trend of the growing Hispanic population as a good, large workforce.   

“Oklahoma is changing and that’s a good thing for our economy,” says this promotional video done by the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.

This is already happening in Kansas, as I’ve reported, where a coalition of social, agri-business and GOP leaders have pushed for a way to document workers for the large dairies in the western part of the state. The group even brought in Grover Norquist, the fiery anti-tax conservative, to advocate for their cause.

I called Allie Devine, the leader of the Kansas Business Coalition, the group seeking legal documentation for ag workers, and asked her about the blue cards. She said the idea has potential, but she worries about keeping skilled and unskilled workers in the state for years to come.

“What do we do in the long term?” Devine said. “As people advance and move up, will we have those entry-level people move in?”

What do you think of this plan? Does the blue card leave you seeing red? Or do you see it as a practical approach to a long-term problem? Maybe you think its exploiting an already-exploited population. What ever you think, leave a comment below or just email me at peggy.lowe@harvestpublicmedia.org.