Tile subcontractor Horacio Gomez, right, originally from the Mexican state of Michoacan, measures and talks with homebuilder Joshua Correa about plans at a custom home under construction in Plano, Texas, Tuesday, May 3, 2022. Credit: LM Otero / AP

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set news policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Jenni Tilton-Flood is a farm family member of Flood Brothers, LLC in Clinton.

Farming is deep in my bones. I grew up the daughter of the local John Deere dealer and married into the Flood family, which runs a multi-generational dairy farm and is a
member owner of Cabot Creamery Cooperative. Our workforce consists of 38 full-time
employees, including family members. Many of our workers are foreign-born. Our herd of about 3,400 animals results in 17,000 gallons of milk on the tables of our fellow
Mainers and those beyond. It’s a challenging life but one I wouldn’t trade for anything.

We’re lucky to have consistent staffing, but I can’t say the same for my colleagues in
Maine agriculture, food processing, and distribution. Folks regularly tell me they’re
struggling to find workers for their most urgent jobs, like food transportation and
expanding operations. Last year, a Maine farmer lost 8,000 pounds of carrots because of a labor shortage. Several fellow farmers have spoken up about this in the past year, asking the government to fix the worker deficit.

That’s why I recently stood on Capitol Hill, shoulder to shoulder with Rep. Jesus “Chuy”
Garcia of Illinois, other members of Congress, and inspiring leaders of industries, urging the Biden administration to use existing law to issue work permits to longtime
immigrants and newcomers, to ease the workforce crisis. Immigrants are here to work,
and the president must let them.

My voice, on behalf of my and other Maine industries, was added to a growing chorus of governors and U.S. senators who are making the same bipartisan plea to the Biden
administration. Governors Spencer Cox of Utah and Eric Holcomb of Indiana, both
Republicans, have written a column in the Washington Post calling for a similar plan.
Other electeds, including Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York and U.S. Sen. Bob
Menendez of New Jersey, both Democrats, back the idea of encouraging the
administration to expand work permits. I’m very much hoping Maine’s own Gov. Janet Mills will become part of this chorus to do what is right for Maine’s communities, economy, and food system.

The president has the authority to do this if it would result in a significant public benefit to the U.S. And it surely would, as employers, immigrant and U.S. native workers and American consumers would all benefit.

Migrants from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Venezuela are currently able to obtain work
authorization under a humanitarian program that allows temporary permits to live and
work in the U.S. That policy also has placed 450,000 migrants — mostly from
Afghanistan, Ukraine, and South America — in industries with critical labor shortages,
such as agriculture, hospitality, and food services. Here in Maine, newcomers from
Somalia have filled vital jobs under this program to help secure and strengthen our food system.

So why not expand such a mechanism? Governors from both parties have long advocated for immigration reform that provides safe and legal pathways to lawful status while maintaining national security at our borders in order to help our economy. This would do just that — with migrants knowing they had a legal pathway to work in the U.S., the incentive to cross the border illegally would likely be lessened.

Our governor, U.S. senators, and House members should join our call to the Biden
administration to expand the program that allows work permits for undocumented
immigrants, including those who have been in the U.S. for decades. In the face of total
gridlock from Congress on immigration, we have to look for common sense solutions
where we can find them.

It would be the right thing for us Maine employers, whose future growth is perilously up in the air unless we have a far broader stream of workers to rely on. Most of all, it would be the right thing for Maine. We’re a beautiful, vibrant state where people come to live a dream. Let’s not threaten that dream with the lack of people power it takes to staff it.

Let’s tell the Biden administration now that Maine — and all states — need urgent action so that our economies not only survive right now but thrive going forward.