May 24, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
As Congress and the new administration debate policies to address America’s immigrant population, it’s critical that lawmakers consider the essential role immigrants have played and will continue to play in enriching our communities and our economy.
The American Dream and Promise Act, which passed the House earlier this year, is one step in the right direction. If enacted, the legislation would allow people who entered the United States without documentation before their 18th birthday – often referred to as Dreamers – to be eligible for legal status and eventually U.S. citizenship, assuming they fulfill one of several requirements. Requirements vary, and include working in the country for three years, military service or enrolling in or graduating from a bachelor’s degree program.
Our economy benefits from a workforce made up of skilled, well-educated people and is dependent on their future innovations. A pathway to citizenship for young people already participating in the workforce, or those enrolled in college or the military will provide communities around the country with an influx of highly qualified and motivated individuals.
According to New American Economy and the Presidents’ Alliance, an organization made up of college and university leadership, there were more than 450,000 undocumented college students in the United States as of April 2020. The enactment of the House bill would ensure these students, and those that come after them, are legally protected and can continue to contribute not only to their own growth and development, but to the nation’s. To be sure, the American Dream and Promise Act is not a comprehensive solution and will not solve all our complex immigration challenges. But policymakers should use it as a springboard to continue looking for ways to create opportunities for the next generation of immigrants.
More than 17 percent of the national workforce is made of foreign-born workers as of 2019. Tyson Foods has a diverse workforce, with many team members who are recent immigrants to the United States. We are proud to employ immigrants from across the world whose contributions are vital to our success. Numerous languages are spoken across our facilities, with up to 35 languages spoken at a single plant. This diversity is our strength.
We take immigration policy seriously. Our diversity and inclusion efforts focus on ensuring that we recruit, develop and retain a diverse group of team members, and that all team members have an opportunity to grow and develop personally and professionally. In addition to advocating for smart immigration policies, we have also implemented a variety of company-wide and local programs to assist in the development of our immigrant workforce.
Good public policy needs to be bolstered by private companies and nonprofits that provide opportunity and support to immigrants. For many immigrants, finding a stable, good-paying job can be difficult. While getting that first job is a major achievement, it’s important to remember our economy is rapidly changing and the skills required in today’s work environment may be different from those needed in just a few years. To account for these changes, and help our workforce prepare for the future, we have developed a free education program called The Upward Academy.
Through the Upward Academy, we provide our front-line employees and with free, onsite classes in English as a Second Language, High School Equivalency and U.S. Citizenship along with other life and professional skill development courses focused on digital and financial literacy. The program operates in more than 50 sites around the country and is available to more than 105,000 team members to date.
The results we have seen so far have been tremendous. Not only is the program attractive to a diverse group of immigrant employees – more than 50 countries are represented – but it is also having a real-world impact on workforce engagement and performance. Employees participating in the Upward Academy are 10 times more likely to stay with Tyson when compared with our general plant workforce.
While we are proud of the work done at Tyson, there are countless other organizations providing opportunity and life-changing services to immigrant communities. For example, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center has been leading efforts to provide legal assistance to immigrants around the country for years. The ILRC works to train attorneys and community members so they have the tools to advocate for more services and safer communities. Another nonprofit, the National Immigration Law Center, does similar work in low-income immigrant communities to address issues like access to health care, education opportunities and driver’s licenses.
We recognize the critical role of immigrants, not only in our workforce but also to our nation. We urge policymakers to continue to consider policies that acknowledge their contribution and provide opportunities for citizenship for a countless number of hardworking people. Rising tides raise all ships and providing immigrants with opportunities to prosper will benefit us all.
Hector Gonzalez, senior vice president of U.S. human resources at Tyson Foods, has been with the company for almost 30 years and leads Human Resources for Tyson’s U.S. business and administration while helping ensure Tyson recruits, retains and engages the most diverse and skilled team members in the food industry.
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Correction: A previous version of this op-ed misstated the share of employees served by the Upward Academy programs.