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Some US Employers Complain of Shortage of Immigrant Workers


The United States is a nation of immigrants. Most come legally, but some 11 million to 12 million people may have entered the country illegally, many from Mexico. As enforcement efforts are strengthened along the border, some employers complain that a shortage of immigrant workers is hurting their industries.

This family farm near San Diego, and others like it, are suffering from intensified security at the border.

The farm relies on immigrant workers, who pick and sort the produce. Heightened border security after the terrorist attacks of 2001 caused the farm to lose three-quarters of its workforce. Federal officials discovered the workers' documents were forged.

Luawanna Hallstrom is the granddaughter of the farm's founder, an immigrant from India. She says many farms in California have lost half their workers.

"You do have some workers that have stayed here for fear of leaving, probably because they believe that they could not get back in for their jobs, and so they give up going back to their families, which socially creates all kinds of problems. But the majority of them [who used to come] are not even coming into the country," she noted.

The family turned to a government program that brings temporary workers from other countries, but Hallstrom says the process is cumbersome.

One man from Mexico says it is good for him. He says the wages are good. He can make here in one day what it takes a week to earn in Mexico, and can return to his family there in the off-season.

Others say in an age of terrorism, the United States must secure its borders, and that those in the country illegally should be deported.

At a recent public meeting, local officials complained about the cost of public services for illegal immigrants.

Other community members offered their viewpoints. Tony Stolz is one of the founders of a controversial group called the Minutemen, which stands watch near the border. He is also entering politics, running for the California assembly.

An immigrant from Cuba, he says illegal immigration hurts other immigrants.

"The first to lose their jobs are the low-skilled workers and legal immigrants - first, second-generation immigrants," he noted. "It is just not fair. It impacts on Hispanics."

Others say illegal immigrants contribute to the economy, accepting jobs that Americans will not take.

A recent protest outside Los Angeles hotels demanded legalization and better wages for undocumented workers.

The demonstration drew supporters from churches, community groups, and labor unions.

All immigrants face the same challenges. At Los Angeles City College, they struggle with the language.

Many who entered the country legally are working toward citizenship.

Those who have entered illegally face the risk of deportation.

Jose Aguirre of Tijuana is staying at a Catholic Charities shelter near San Diego. He says Latin Americans like him are willing to work hard.

"We come to this country only for working, to do the work that Americans do not like. That is why we need this country," he said. "We love this country. And this country needs us."

In Washington, the debate rages on over border security, the need for immigrant workers, and the problem of the millions now in the country illegally.

President Bush and many in Congress want a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. Others say the priority should be security, and enforcing existing immigration laws.

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