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Worker Shortage Prompts Call For Immigration Reform In Wisconsin

Dairy And Restaurant Industries In Wisconsin Join National Reason For Reform Campaign

WPR/Shamane Mills

Business and civic leaders in all 50 states are kicking off what’s called the Reason for Reform campaign.

Representatives from dairy farms and restaurants in Wisconsin joined officials from Dane County’s Latino Chamber of Commerce at a press event Wednesday at Centro Hispano to push for immigration reform.

Dairy farms and restaurants are particularly reliant on immigrant workers, and immigration reform is critical for business, said Mayra Medrano, president of Dane County’s Latino Chamber of Commerce president.

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The United States immigration policy has remained virtually unchanged since the 1960s and does not fit today’s economy, Medrano said.

Some restaurants in rural areas are limiting hours because they can’t find enough workers, said Susan Quam, Wisconsin Restaurant Association executive vice president.

“We strongly support a guest worker program that allows all the undocumented workers that are currently here and contributing to our economy to identify themselves and be able to legally stay here,” Quam said.

John Holevoet, Dairy Business Association’s director of government affairs, also spoke of a worker shortage.

“It is no secret that it’s hard to find employees for dairy farms in Wisconsin,” Holevoet said. “And our state’s demographics are only going to make this more challenging. We have a rapidly aging and shrinking population.”

Holevoet said the seasonal work visa used by many immigrants isn’t suitable for year-round dairy work. Holevoet and other reform supporters say they don’t have a specific reform plan and realize they are pushing for change at a time when there’s political backlash against immigrants.

“What can we accomplish in this political environment?” Holevoet asked. “Is there a 30-point plan that we all can agree on and get done? Maybe not. But there are portions of this we can agree on, and the time is now to move forward.”

Supporters of reform point to U.S. Census Bureau data showing immigrants are more likely than the general population to start their own business. The Partnership for a New American Economy also has a map showing the impact of immigration in each state and where immigrants are coming from. Mexico is the most common country of origin for Wisconsin’s immigrants.

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