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'Dollars and Sense' of Immigration Reform for WA Farms

PHOTO: Agriculture is a $46 billion industry in Washington, and a new report says it would continue to boom with immigration reform. Photo courtesy National Young Farmers Coalition.
PHOTO: Agriculture is a $46 billion industry in Washington, and a new report says it would continue to boom with immigration reform. Photo courtesy National Young Farmers Coalition.
August 12, 2013

YAKIMA, Wash. - Not only undocumented workers would benefit from immigration reform. Some of the businesses that drive the Washington economy also stand to gain, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress. It estimated the increases in business output and tax revenue using the U.S. Senate's proposed immigration changes, and found there would be $21 billion more gross product and $1.3 billion more state and local tax income for the state of Washington over 10 years.

The agriculture industry is on board, according to Mike Gempler, executive director of the Washington Growers League, because it's becoming harder to find and hire workers.

"We need a system that will work, where we can match people who want the jobs with the jobs, protect this sector of our economy and move forward," Gempler said. "The system we have now just does not work - for either the employees or the employers, and frankly, for the communities."

Washington farms continue to come up short when they try to hire non-immigrant workers, he added. The report said making immigrants legal would bring them out of an underground economy and mean more than $10 billion in additional earnings for them in Washington, in the next decade.

The guest worker visa program for ag and the E-Verify system to check a job applicant's identity and immigration status both need to be overhauled, according to Gempler, who notes that the Senate proposal would do that. Agriculture is not the only industry that would benefit from a more stable workforce, he pointed out. And he thinks most Washingtonians probably already know someone who is here illegally - and don't even realize it.

"They're good people and have become part of the community, and they need an opportunity to be able to be here on a legal basis. It'll be better for our communities and for them. And it will give the employers a way to get from here to there - it's like a bridge," Gempler explained.

The report also said immigrants are most likely to be of working age, and can contribute billions of dollars to Medicare and Social Security through their paychecks, putting both of those programs on more stable financial ground. The U.S. Senate has passed its legislation; the House has yet to act.

Gempler and others will comment on the report findings on Aug. 13 at 1 p.m., at the Yakima Valley Museum in Yakima.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA