Immigration & Andy Griffith

Published 9:01 am Monday, April 9, 2018

By Rep. Michael Wray

When it comes to immigration, federal lawmakers should ask themselves: what would Andy Griffith do?

In an episode of The Andy Griffith Show, our North Carolina hero welcomed an Italian immigrant named Mario to the town of Mayberry. A farmer in town, Sam, brought Mario to the United States to help on his homestead. Sam explained, “You know the trouble I’ve had getting somebody to help me.” Sam said Mario would be a “hard worker.” Mario promised to “stay out of trouble.”

There were smiles all around, and our hero, Mario, went on his merry way.

Immigration is American as apple pie, baseball, and Andy Griffith. North Carolina is home to more than 780,000 immigrants. Immigrants or their children created more than 40 percent of the Fortune 500 firms in the state. And while Andy Griffith’s Sam might have been one of the first farmers to welcome immigrant labor into Mayberry, today about 60 percent of the state’s agricultural workers were born in another country. Nationwide, immigrants represent about 13 percent of the total population, but 20 percent of the country’s entrepreneurs.

As Sam said, immigrants work hard. This country needs them. This state needs them.

Still, some members of Congress have been unwilling to improve our terribly outdated laws. In fact, some have actually proposed to reduce the number of foreign-born workers allowed to enter the country. I hope these lawmakers will reconsider. Instead they should:

Let hard-working young immigrants stay. For the past seven months, Congress has been debating how to replace the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed nearly 800,000 immigrants brought here as minors to stay in the United States legally for two years. The legislative progress has stalled because the White House wants to cut legal immigration in exchange for a DACA bill. Congress should ignore that bad idea and quickly pass a long-term legislative solution for Dreamers.

Give visas to more hard-working high-skill immigrants. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security began taking applications for the H-1B visa program on April 2. This program allows high-skilled workers to come to the US temporarily, but there are more businesses looking for this type of worker than there are slots in the program. The H-1B program hasn’t been reformed since 1990. Our economy is very different today. Congress should expand the visa allotment and create other similar programs, especially ones that allow immigrant entrepreneurs to create jobs in the United States.

Give immigrants who contribute to our economy a permanent place here. Every year, thousands of immigrants prove themselves through our H-1B visa system. They show a willingness to work and the ingenuity that will help companies create new products—which will lead to new jobs for native-born Americans. But because there is a nine-year backlog in the nation’s employment-based green card system, these individuals’ futures here remain uncertain. Congress needs to reform these systems in order to make it easier for visa holders to gain legal permanent residency.

Andy Griffith—the man on television, and the one in real life—represented the best of North Carolina, and America, but so did the fictional Mario. Immigration has long been our country’s competitive advantage in the global economy, and immigrants of all skill levels help create U.S. jobs.

It’s time Congress reform our immigration system to let more hard workers settle here.

Michael Wray of Gaston represents the 27th District in the NC House of Representative.