Immigration reform was the topic of discussion in Salinas today, where local leaders met to start a conversation in the community. Well, this is coming right after yesterday’s march for immigration reform in Salinas, community group COPA organized a meeting to discuss immigration matters they consider urgent for the people of Salinas. More than 50 community leaders spoke as guests at the meeting, many of them in the agriculture business. They agree that the major concern they face is staffing.
“We see less people coming into the country and it’s been a real challenge to be able to get a workforce. So we have turned to a legal option which is the H2A visa program,” said Wesley Van Camp, VP and General Consel at Tanimura and Antle.
In this case the legal way is a lengthy process that makes finding enough workers challenging. One speaker today said it’s not just finding workers, but being able to house them here and in the Bay Area where the cost of living is high.
“The recession pretty much wiped out, the majority moved to Arizona and Las Vegas and now they attempt to come back but because business is good once again, but you have be atrocious cost of housing on the peninsula and really throughout Monterey County,” said John Narigi, VP and General Manager at Monterey Plaza Hotel.
While many of COPA leaders at today’s meeting voiced their concerns for the loss of workers, other mentioned that crime in Salinas is a factor to consider.
“You can see our prisons and you can see how our local county jails and things have been affected by gangs and by other things that effect us,” said Pete Scheffers President at Scudder Roofing.
Immigration reform is now a nationwide conversation, but for the people of Salinas, it’s personal. The overall message echoing through the mic at today’s meeting seemed to be: how leaders can effect change and progress for the immigrant community here in Salinas.
“We are people that work hard in this community, and I come from a family of immigrants, and my grandparents were here and they helped to establish the farm working community, and since then I’ve seen a growth of people coming in the help harvest crops to,” said Sally Torres, COPA member with Sacred Heart Church in Salinas.
This diverse group of industries and religious leaders of Salinas say while a solution wasn’t drawn up at this meeting, the conversation amongst local leaders was meant to be a strong foot forward. COPA plans to have future meetings where solutions are put on the table as well.