By Murrel Bland

Monsignor Stuart Swetland was a Rhodes Scholar who studied economics at Oxford University in England during the 1980s. However, when commenting about immigration reform at a recent Legislative Committee meeting at the Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce, he said he depends on his compassionate views as a Roman Catholic clergyman rather than a student of economics. Monsignor Swetland is the president of Donnelly College.

His comments came after a very spirited discussion among members of the Legislative Committee. Senator Steve Fitzgerald, a conservative member of the Kansas Senate, reminded committee members that there are laws on the books which are being violated by immigrants who have entered the United States illegally or those who are here with expired visas.

Another matter to the immigration issue concerns children who came here at a very young age with their undocumented parents and have been here for several years. Many of these persons are grown and are productive members of society.

Although I admire the comments from Monsignor Swetland in his plea for compassion, the cold, hard facts dictate that many industries would be hard pressed to operate if all of the undocumented immigrants were forced at leave this country. So it does come down to a matter of economics. Those industries that are most vulnerable include restaurants, hotels, landscaping and construction, particularly homebuilding.

I recently had a conversation with a dry wall contractor who does extensive work in the single-family housing trade. He said most of his workers are first- generation Mexican immigrants; they are very good workers, he said.

In past years, the Chamber of Commerce has made it quite clear that immigration is a federal problem. That is consistent with the Chamber’s Legislative Committee’s present proposed position on the immigration issue:

“Encourage federal resolution to immigration reform. Said federal resolution should compassionately address situations of individuals currently in the country. Oppose state legislation increasing penalties or threatening the business licenses of employers who have unintentionally hired illegal workers.”

The Chamber’s Board of Directors will consider this issue when it meets later this month.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.