Panelists at a forum on immigration reform said the nation's immigration policy is irrevocably broken and needs to be fixed for economic and moral reasons.
Immigration policy is "inconsistent, it's misapplied, it's incorrectly applied," said Sandy Beck, director of mission for the Carolina Baptist Association. "We don't have an immigration policy. It's not so much reformation (of policy) as establishing something consistent that everybody can live with."
The Oct. 11 forum was sponsored by a pro-immigration reform organization,
Bibles, Badges and Business for Immigration Reform network. It was meant to highlight the need for broad reform in North Carolina and urge the state's congressional delegation to support immigration reform.
Forum participants also included Dr. Scott Thompson of Fruitland Baptist Bible College, moderator Bert Lemkes, co-owner of Van Wingerden International, and Mark Williams, executive director of Agribusiness Henderson County.
Like many people, Beck said he once believed that the U.S. "could send them all back to Mexico."
"They are from 16 different countries" of Latin America, he said. "You can't round them all up and send them to Mexico because that's not where they came from. We need to work in the law. But the law is broken. The law is not applied. I don't think we can enforce the law as it's written today."
Williams said most people aren't aware that farm workers, many here illegally, are "contributing members of society" who volunteer in schools and in their churches and want to make a living.
"They're not here because they understand we have a great welfare system and they might tap into it," he said. "Their motivation is to work hard, to earn money to be able to provide for their family. ... As they come here and they are here, and they're contributing and they're working hard, they're living in fear, and now more than ever.
"It saddens me to see people I work beside that I've known personally — see them, know their character, know their heart — and to see them get in the car, they're not sure they're going to make it back home at night," Williams said. "There's a strong element of fear there and I hate that for somebody that's actually here contributing and helping us."
The loss of farm labor, he said, has a potentially big cost for the county's farm economy.
"From an economic standpoint, we're seeing a reduction of workers coming into our area ranging, in produce 20-25 percent, apples 30 to 35 percent, green industry I know I've seen similar figures," Williams said. "Our area generates over $400 million as a result of agribusiness just in Henderson County alone. You can apply the loss almost across the board. We're talking already seeing an impact of $100 million.
"The threat is to every bit of that industry here," he said. "Without the workers, we can grow the best apple crop around, we can have the best market around. But if you can't get that apple picked and in the box, you got nothing. From that standpoint the whole industry is at risk."