NC business leaders appeal to Tillis on immigration reform

Posted May 22
Updated May 23

— Representatives from the construction, hospitality, farming and seafood industries sat down with U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis in Raleigh on Monday to share their concerns about possible immigration reform.

Tillis has been hosting a series of roundtable discussions with New American Economy, a coalition of business leaders and mayors working toward comprehensive immigration reform, to get different perspectives as Congress once again tries to tackle U.S. immigration policies, which have proved nettlesome for decades.

"What we’re really trying to do is connect to the individual impact, the impact on employers. I think it's really trying to make this real," the North Carolina Republican said.

Richard Gephart said many of the workers at Gephart Building Company are undocumented, but his business couldn't survive without them.

"They build our houses. They pave our roads," Gephart said.

The self-described political conservative said he can't get on board with the Trump administration's immigration plans, noting chants of "build the wall" and "ship them out" make him sick with worry for his workers.

"I have one [worker] who is raising three wonderful girls, all on the honor roll, all born here legally," Gephart said. "The father was not born here legally, and he really worries about driving home every night that he's going to be picked up and sent back."

Business leaders said the red tape required for visas for immigrant labor is often too overwhelming and too expensive. Like Gephart, others expressed concern that stepped-up enforcement of immigration laws will hurt their companies.

"There is a great nervousness not only on the part of the farm workers but the employers as well because these people are vital to the success of these farms and businesses," said Larry Wooten, president of the North Carolina Farm Bureau.

Tillis said his efforts to hammer out a compromise in Washington, D.C., will include solutions, such as pairing tighter border security with a revamped work visa program, that make many in the industries that rely on immigrant labor nervous.

"We’re going to propose things that push people out of their comfort zones, but it's absolutely necessary to get those votes in the middle that I think exist," he said. "Until we start coming up with these policies that are balanced, that address the legitimate concerns from either side of the aisle, then we're going to be at the same place 40 years from now if we don't have somebody step up and be willing to take the kinds of political hits in the interim work products that are necessary for you to get something done."

Many in the room said they didn't expect to agree with Tillis, but they left feeling surprisingly satisfied.

"I think I was encouraged," said Jennifer Dionne of the American Seafood Jobs Alliance. "The fact that Sen. Tillis is willing to look at pairing certain issues together and taking this at bite-size chunks and not trying to fix all of it at once is probably the only way we're going to get this done."


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  • Michael Bawden May 25, 6:20 a.m.
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    So we have a business breaking the law hiring illegal immigrants to get an edge on the competition that is hiring LEGAL foreign workers. Why is this businessman that ADMITS to hiring illegals not punished under the Simpson-Mizzoli Act back in 1986? It is NOT a new law!

  • Lou DeLucia May 23, 5:49 p.m.
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    First of all, let's be very clear about who the Partnership for a New American Economy is:



  • Lou DeLucia May 23, 5:44 p.m.
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    The U.S. currently has eleven non immigrant guest worker visa programs.

    There is no cap on the number of workers allowed into the U.S. under the H-2A temporary agricultural guest worker visa program.

    "The provision could more than triple the number of H-2B visas for foreign workers seeking jobs at hotels, theme parks, ski resorts, golf courses, landscaping businesses, restaurants and bars. The move is intended to boost the supply of non-agricultural seasonal workers."


    Alabama had to bite the bullet and hire LEGAL Immigrants for its AG Industry:


  • Peggy Morris May 23, 5:39 p.m.
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    Totally agree with Henry Cooper on this one.
    On another side of the coin though: you have a legal USA citizen that commits crimes, would you want to help him avoid lock up so he can keep working for you. Not likely! The point is the illegal immigrant knew he was committing a crime by coming here without following proper procedure and BEFORE having children born in the USA. Using children for an excuse is beyond pathetic.

  • Stacie Hagwood May 23, 6:18 a.m.
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    I appreciate this article because it shows that things are much more complicated than Trump makes them out to be. We need more affordable work visas, and we need to be willing to pay more for what we get.

  • Henry Cooper May 22, 10:33 p.m.
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    Translation... Don't take away my cheap labor.

    As far as expense and the process. Does not appear daunting at all and $320 does not seem exorbitant as far as expense to be able to get everything this country has to offer.

    Why don't these employers offer these employees an employer sponsored work visa. That makes it a team effort. I have seen it done for people in tech jobs and know several currently here on permanent employer sponsored work visa's.

    Process and Fees:


    Employer Sponsorship:

  • Teddy Fowler May 22, 6:34 p.m.
    user avatar

    Another RINO. Good Luck with that.