WASHINGTON — Craig Parker has 10 positions open at the Silver Star Construction Co. in Moore that he could fill quickly with illegal immigrants.
But the company verifies citizenship and has had to turn away applicants for positions as truck drivers, concrete finishers and asphalt plant workers. Meanwhile, he and his competitors are facing labor shortages in Oklahoma, where the unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country, he said.
“It's not a glamorous industry what we do,” Parker said Tuesday as he stood outside Rep. James Lankford's congressional office. “We pay well, but it's still a labor position.”
Parker, the vice president of the company, was part of a large group of Oklahoma business executives, Republican Party activists and evangelical leaders on Capitol Hill to talk to U.S. House members about immigration reform.
Parker said he wanted Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, to tell Republican House leaders “to get the process moving.” He said he didn't support “an amnesty program” and that he wanted the nation to have secure borders.
“But we need big gates with legal prospects of them getting across,” he said.
Lydia Gonzalez, of Tulsa, said reform couldn't wait for the next presidential election.
“There's an urgency in the air for it to pass for so many reasons — economically, for families, for businesses, for those who have been waiting years and years and years to become United States citizens,” said Gonzalez, state director of the Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
“The system is so broken, the bubble has been burst. It has to be fixed right now.”
The U.S. Senate has passed immigration reform legislation that addresses border security, work visas and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. House Republican leaders have said they would not consider the Senate bill but would instead advance their own approach — and not this year.
The Oklahoma group's visit was coordinated as part of a national effort sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other outside groups pushing for immigration reform. Some of the groups focused on bringing Republicans to Washington to talk to the Republicans who run the House.
“I'm a conservative — this is a conservative effort,” said Estela Hernandez, who is the owner of Lone Star Construction in Oklahoma City and director of minority outreach for the Oklahoma Republican Party.
Hernandez, who said she lived in the United States for 12 years before becoming a citizen at age 18, also emphasized the need to act quickly. She said she has seen families split apart, with the parents deported and the children becoming wards of the state.
Jake Fisher, with Bridges Advertising in Oklahoma City, said many families are “hunkered down,” as illegal immigrants live in fear of being deported.
Fisher, who identified himself as a registered Republican, said, “There is a huge unrealized potential of economic activity within families. ... We need to remove the specter of deportation so they can engage, especially economically.”