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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is a longtime immigration reform supporter, and one of the Senate Gang of 8 currently considering immigration legislation. He’s been such a leader on the issue that he’s now being targeted by anti-immigrant groups like NumbersUSA, who want to silence his advocacy.
Last week, Graham spoke about immigration during a visit to the Easley Rotary Club, where he said he’s going to need “all the help I can get” on immigration reform.
“When it comes to immigration reform,” he said, “now is the time. I’ve never seen a better political environment.”
Here’s more from the Easley Patch:
Graham believes the GOP’s stance on immigrants cost them heavily in the 2012 election.
“On the Republican side, we went from 44 percent of the Hispanic vote under President Bush in 2004 down to 27 (percent),” he said. “That is not growth. And you’ll never convince me it’s not because of the rhetoric around the immigration debate. I don’t think Hispanics see us as not conservative enough. I think we’ve created a wall between ourselves and the Hispanic community based on word choices, more than anything else.
“But that’s a political problem,” Graham said. “I’m not doing immigration reform to solve the Republican Party’s political problem. I’m trying to save our nation from, I think, a shortage of labor and a catastrophic broken system.”
Graham spoke about all the reasons why the US needs immigrants—and why we currently have a shortage:
“Anybody ever worked in a chicken processing plant?” Graham asked. “Anybody ever been to one? How many of you want your kids to work there?It’s tough work. When you go to these meatpacking plants in Saluda, harvesting the crops or servicing the hotels along the coast, you may not believe it, but it is true – there is a shortage of labor in some parts of our economy, even though we have high unemployment.”
Graham said the Kiawah Golf Club advertised for 600-700 service positions in advance of hosting the PGA.
“They got 9 applicants for these jobs,” he said. “Three of them failed the drug test. They ran out of visas. You have an allocation of visas for seasonal service workers. I had to go to beg the Department of Labor to give them a waiver so they could get people from Jamaica to come in here and service the PGA.
“There’s a shortage of labor,” Graham said. “The visas we have available just are not enough. On the high-tech end, BMW and other companies like Boeing, we just don’t produce enough engineers here in America to meet the needs of American business.”
America is suffering from a “brain drain,” where engineers are being educated in this country then returning to their home countries, Graham said.
“I think it’s crazy to give them a degree from Clemson and they go back to India,” he said. “They should stay here. They should get a green card with their degree. We’re going to need people.”
Today there are three workers for every Social Security retiree, Graham said.
“In 20 years, there will be two,” he said. “We’re going to need to bring people into this country to make sure we have the labor we need to keep America strong and to grow our economy.
Graham also spoke about immigration as a idea that is and has always been central to the nation’s philosophy:
America is “a land of immigrants.”
“This comes natural to us,” Graham said. “They’re having a hell of a hard time in France and Germany. An American is an idea. It’s not a race or one group. It’s not a religion, it’s an idea. The good news is that a lot of people will buy into this idea. The bad news is, more people want to buy into it than we can afford to bring in in an orderly fashion. That’s why you need a new immigration system.
Since the 2012 election, Republicans and conservatives from Charles Krauthammer to John Boehner to Sean Hannity have been gravitating toward Graham’s position, supporting immigration reform that can be passed as legislation this year. One of these Republicans has been Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who this week came out in support of immigration reform with a path to citizenship.