SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Governor J.B. Pritzker and other elected officials are calling on President Joe Biden to expand work permits of immigrants as many industries, including agriculture, face a challenge with finding workers.
“We’ve had labor challenges ever since COVID,” said Richard Guebert, the president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. “It has been a topic of conversation in the ag community. Whether it’s in manufacturing, on the farm, or in the local cooperatives, labor has just been a continued challenge and an issue.”
Governor J.B. Pritzker, members of Congress, business, and other community leaders think they have the solution: getting work permits for the thousands of migrants bused to the state from the southern border.
“There are jobs that go vacant because American workers are not taking these jobs,” Sen. Dick Durbin said in a press conference Wednesday. “These immigrants are ready to step in and take the hardest, dirtiest, roughest jobs imaginable, because they always have.”
Pritzker and other elected officials are calling on Biden to fast track these work permits for undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for years and for new migrants. Pritzker said it could be a great benefit for the agricultural industry.
“There is more and more work that needs to get done, not enough people available to do it, so why not let people who are here resident, at least for the time being legally until they have their hearing, have them work,” Pritzker said in a press conference Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that from 2018 to 2020, 41% of people in farmwork were immigrants who lacked work authorization.
“This is, in addition to being a critical part of the American industry, is an industry that is heavily, heavily dependent on undocumented immigrants,” said Rebecca Shi, the executive director of the American Business Immigration Coalition.
But the Illinois Farm Bureau said it could take some time to bring these workers into the fields.
“Just to bring those individuals out to the farm gate and put them to work would be challenging,” Guebert said. “They understand agriculture and the challenges that we face, but I think there’s opportunities for continued conversation and [to] find a way forward in the months ahead.”
Federal law is already in place that allows for the expansion of work permits for migrants, so it wouldn’t require any action by Congress.