SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — After the United States Senate passed an immigration reform bill on Thursday, one Senator began traveling through Oregon to discuss the bill’s impact on the state’s forest industry.
The national immigration bill is composed of different sections, and one amendment, S.891 American Jobs in American Forests Act of 2013, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D – Ore.), specifically addresses the U.S. forestry sector. Sen. Merkley was in Springfield on Friday to express his concerns about contractors, especially in Oregon, who use guest worker programs to recruit foreigners. He says too many Oregonians are looking for work in the forestry field, and believes Oregon contractors should be hiring locally.
“It’s not our job to provide, within our boundaries, employment for folks coming from afar,” Sen. Merkley said. “There are moments when we have shortages and we need a well-rounded regulated immigration system to help address these shortages.”
In Oregon, the unemployment rate is just under eight percent. However, the unemployment rate is even higher in rural timber counties, reaching almost 13 percent in Harney and Grant Counties. Sen. Merkley says he wants to crack down on the forestry industry, to make sure Oregonians would have the first priority in getting hired. Sen. Merkley says in 2011, legislators passed a stimulus bill to put Americans back to work. He says instead of being used to hire Americans, contractors used funds to bring in guest workers.
“Imagine how frustrating it would be to be in a timber town, where you were basically born with a chainsaw in your hand, and you find out that these funds designed to put folks back to work were going to a a guest worker program,” said Sen. Merkley, a Myrtle Creek native. “It’s just unacceptable.”
Sen. Merkley says under his amendment, forest contractors would have to consult with the state before using a guest worker program.
The Senate immigration package moves to the House of Representatives before President Barack Obama can sign it into law.