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Let’s hope election solves immigration woes

The disaster that struck the small town of Postville, Iowa, recently was a dramatic demonstration of what is wrong with U.S. immigration policy.

Federal agents targeted Agriprocessors, a firm that produces kosher meat, and arrested 400 of the plant’s 900 workers — mostly Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants.

Three hundred were charged with identity theft and using stolen Social Security cards.

The raid was a damaging blow to the city’s economy. Agriprocessors was the largest employer in the town of about 1,700 people and it could not continue to operate. The raid also dealt a terrible blow to the immigrants, who expect to be deported — along with their children, many of whom were born in Postville and are U.S. citizens. The company’s operations were disrupted while Agriprocessors sought to recruit white and African American workers from outside the area.

Agriprocessors, operated by the Rubashkin family, moved to Postville in 1987 from New York to be closer to a source of livestock.

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The Rev. Paul Ouderkirk, a priest at St. Bridget’s Catholic Church in Postville, has been assisting the families of the fired workers, who were left without a source of income. Among other things, the church sponsors luncheons for the workers and their children.

The raid was one of a series conducted by federal agents that have disrupted a number of American cities. The raids have shut down companies that had hired immigrants because they were unable to hire workers locally. That is a national problem because the American work force is declining as baby boomers retire and there are fewer workers in the succeeding generation.

It is hard to believe that federal agents are continuing to conduct such raids, because they all have the same effect — they make it hard for businesses to keep operating, they cause serious damage to the economies of the communities affected, and they disrupt the lives of thousands of workers.

The raids are the result of agitation by right-wing conservatives who believe that they are an effective way of halting illegal immigration. They are wrong.

The American work force is shrinking and immigrants are needed to keep the economy running. This trend is caused by the aging of the labor force.

Baby boomers are retiring and there are not enough younger workers coming into the work force to replace them.

That’s why the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, along with dozens of other communities, has established the Work Force 2020 program. Its goal is to help businesses find ways to provide enough workers between now and 2020, when the last of the baby boomers are expected to retire.

The federal government should also be addressing that issue instead of conducting a pointless program of arresting and deporting immigrants.

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There is another more rational and infinitely more effective way of dealing with illegal immigrants. The first is to recognize that there are 12 million illegal immigrants in this country. Arresting and deporting all of them would be terribly destructive for all concerned.

What is needed is a humane and workable program to allow these immigrants to become citizens. In the first place, they are not hardened criminals. They are impoverished individuals from Mexico and Guatemala and elsewhere who could not find jobs in their own countries and came to the U.S. to find a way to support their families.

They should be allowed to qualify for citizenship in a given period of time if they learn English, pay taxes and meet other reasonable standards. After all, the United States is a nation of immigrants and their descendants — many of whom were not treated well when they first arrived.

Congress needs to address the problem because the current policy is destructive for all concerned.

It is hoped the next election will result in new leadership that can deal with this grievous problem in a humane and effective way.

Bill Boyne is a retired publisher and editor of the Post-Bulletin. His column appears weekly.

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