September 27. 2013 12:13AM

Another View -- Tom Boucher: On immigration, Sen. Kelly Ayotte got it right


Sen. Kelly Ayotte deserves praise for her insightful and pragmatic view of our immigration challenges and for having the courage to come out in support of Gang of Eight’s proposal. Kelly Ayotte has shown herself to be an independent voice for New Hampshire during her first two years in the U.S. Senate. She looks at each issue on a case-by-case basis and casts votes based on what she believes is right. A Sept. 9 Union Leader column, “Why did Kelly Ayotte get the immigration vote wrong,” by Joe Grant, that suggested otherwise was simply wrong.

We all agree that we need to secure our border. We all agree that illegal immigrants shouldn’t be able to continue living here without any consequences. We all want to see our laws enforced. We all want to make sure that immigrants learn English. And we all want a solution that finally solves this problem. The legislation that Sen. Ayotte voted for takes steps to do all of those things.

The op-ed that ran in the Union Leader misleads readers about provisions in the bill, starting with the fact that it’s not amnesty. The legislation doesn’t immediately grant permanent legal status to anyone. And the border security provisions take unprecedented steps to secure our borders: doubling the number of border patrol agents and doubling the amount of fencing at the border. Also, there would be full implementation of E-verify technology, which will dry up work opportunities for illegal immigrants.

Strict border security goals would have to be achieved and interior security targets would have to be met first before illegal immigrants could be eligible for a green card. Even then, the wait would be at least a decade, and those who seek legal status would have to clear background checks and pay fines. Additionally, the legislation the Senate voted on had been under consideration for ten weeks, providing plenty of time for review. And the strong border security amendment certainly didn’t add over 1,000 pages to the bill, which is one of several myths about the legislation.

The reform bill is not perfect, but what in life is? I’m a believer in pursuing excellence, not perfection, when making difficult decisions, and this bill is an excellent example of compromise. It represents a giant step in the right direction for a problem that has been neglected for far too long.

The restaurant industry continues to expand faster than most industries in the U.S. in spite of the challenging economic environment since 2008. America’s 980,000 restaurants are expected to post record sales and continue to be leading job creators in 2013, according to the National Restaurant Association’s 2013 Restaurant Industry Forecast. Total restaurant industry sales are expected to exceed $660 billion in 2013 — a 3.8 percent increase over 2012, marking the fourth consecutive year of real sales growth for the industry.

More importantly, 2013 will be the 14th straight year in which restaurant industry employment will outpace overall employment. Restaurants will employ 13.1 million individuals next year as the nation’s second-largest private sector employer, representing 10 percent of the total U.S. workforce.

As our and other labor-intensive industries grow, there will be continued pressure to fill jobs. Our workforce is as diverse as the restaurants in our industry and not only provides jobs but unlike many other industries, it provides an opportunity for an individual to go from the dish room to the boardroom. Restaurants, like hotels and many other industries, often employ significant numbers of recent immigrants. To meet this demand, we must have a reliable and legal labor force.

Certainly no one wants to continue on the path we’re on, with millions of illegal immigrants living in our country and no plan for how to stop illegal immigration in the future. Sen. Ayotte understands that doing nothing amounts to tacit acceptance of the illegal immigration amnesty we currently have, and that is unacceptable.

There are many Americans who join me in understanding and appreciating the everyday contributions that legal immigrants provide to our economy. From farm to fork, our immigrant community is an essential part of a labor niche that makes the dining experience for millions of Americans possible.

So thank you, Sen. Ayotte, for not being a “Washington Rubber Stamper.” Thank you for repeatedly standing on principle, regardless of political heat from the far right or far left. And of course, thank you for having the courage to stand up and vote for legislation to fix America’s immigration system, even though it would have been easier for you to sit on the sidelines and let others take the lead in this contentious debate.

Tom Boucher is CEO and owner of Great NH Restaurants (T-BONES Great American Eatery, Cactus Jack’s, Copper Door) and a board member of the National Restaurant Association.