10:35 PM CDT on Monday, August 25, 2008
By DIANNE SOLÍS / The Dallas Morning News
Poultry mogul Lonnie "Bo" Pilgrim on Monday called for an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws.
"We have to rise up and do something," the 80-year-old co-founder of Pilgrim's Pride Corp. said at a gathering of Texas employers. "Every individual, all 300 million of us, every man, woman and child, is touched by this issue. We all have to have food. We all have to have shelter. And America doesn't have the labor to support the economy."
Mr. Pilgrim discussed the issue at a meeting in Irving attended by about 100 members of the lobbying group Texas Employers for Immigration Reform.
TEIR is an offshoot of the Texas Association of Business, headed by former Dallas state representative Bill Hammond. The group wants a legalization program for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. and a guest worker program for future labor flows.
With increased enforcement of immigration laws, members said, such programs are essential. Speakers addressed such issues as fertility rates of native-born U.S. citizens, labor force replacement and the difficulties in verifying documents.
More than 300 workers at Pilgrim's Pride's plants in Mount Pleasant, Texas, and four other locations were arrested in April by immigration officers as part of an investigation into identity fraud. The sweep illustrated a switch in tactics in which the government uses criminal law to prosecute illegal immigrants. In that law enforcement action, Pilgrim's Pride, based in Pittsburg, Texas, wasn't charged.
U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, said he supported a legalization program, but not one that would provide a pathway for U.S. citizenship.
Mr. Hammond called the distinction a "major sticking point" in the push for an overhaul. Such an effort failed last year before Congress.
At the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that wants immigration restrictions, spokesman Ira Mehlman dismissed the employers' efforts. "Most of these folks can't anticipate what their labor needs are six months from now. Why are they telling us what their needs are 20 years from now?"