The immigration issue has divided this country. On the anti-immigrant side, it is repeated that people have broken the law entering the United States. On the pro-immigrant side, people ask for compassion for those who live in the United States and are undocumented.

Unfortunately, the central cause of the problem has been misrepresented, underreported, and rarely discussed. What is missing is whether we needed immigration to fill the jobs that citizens or legal residents were unavailable to do. It is often said that immigrants do jobs that Americans don't want to do, but the real question is, were and are there Americans available to do those jobs at all?

Tom Roach, a Seattle immigration lawyer, in a 10 min. excerpt of a speech from 2010, summarizes this clearly. According to Mr. Roach, in the years before 2008, the United States needed 500,000 workers a year in the category of low skill labor, defined by people whose jobs require less than two years training. During those years, we only issued 5000 visas in that category. As a result, people came across the border, or overstayed tourist visas, to fill our needs, as well as their own.

I e-mailed Mr. Roach and asked him where he got his statistics. He responded that the data regarding labor needs of 500,000 workers a year was from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the data regarding 5000 visas was from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

If this is true, this should be the core of any discussion about illegal immigration. If we need people to work, why don’t we allow them to immigrate legally?

I am a RI Master Plumber and Pipefitter, I have owned my business for 27 years, and I get three monthly national trade magazines. Every month there are articles regarding the difficulty in recruiting people into the industry. The average age of plumbers in the United States is in the 50s, and as we are retiring, we do not have younger people to replace us. If so many Americans have been put out of work by illegal immigrants, how come our industry cannot find plumbers and technicians?

When I speak to other business owners, the biggest complaint I hear is the inability to find good employees. From restaurants, manufacturing, and construction throughout the country, to the boatbuilding industry here in Bristol, RI, blue-collar based businesses lack reliable workers. Rick Mejia, the president of BrassCraft Mfg. Co., a major supplier to the plumbing industry, said in a July 2016 interview, that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is a deficit of 800,000 machinists in the United States. Electric Boat, in Groton, Connecticut, cannot hire enough welders who can pass a drug test and other requirements. All this seems to contradict the claim that undocumented immigrants have created unemployment for U.S. citizens.

However, mainstream media and politicians promote the message that we need to create jobs. Obviously, there are areas where there is high unemployment, but there are also many other areas where employers can’t fill jobs. This conflict needs to be resolved by people relocating, as they have always done, or investment in training programs. But the fundamental question remains, do we have enough people to fill our labor needs? And if we don't, are we going to allow people to immigrate legally? And if we didn't allow people to immigrate legally in the past, why do we persecute them now?

Greg Hall