[Editor's note: In this column, Ricardo Gonzalez]

[Editor's note: In this column, Ricardo Gonz

Things have really heated up on the immigration issue with the passage of H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act, back in December of 2005. This highly restrictive immigration bill is the toughest legislation to pass the House in decades.

Carrying some tough measures such as allowing police to ask for legal documentation at any time from anyone they please, this bill has some far-reaching consequences - the largest of which might be psychological. Members of your present workforce will walk around with compounded levels of fear, as if this is not already an issue! Will the new proposed fences to be built on the border as part of this Bill hold back a future group of immigrants? It is doubtful, to be sure.

Conservative radio personalities like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham are fueling conservative tough talk on immigration.

For now, despite of the House passage of H.R. 4437, it seems nothing is really going to change because President Bush opposes this legislation. It is doubtful it will pass the Senate and become law, but - and here's what should concern you - there is a lot of movement on this issue. If the wrong policies are adopted in the future, it really could affect you and your business - big time.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania has introduced a very comprehensive piece of legislation that would beef up border control but would also have a work permit system to allow new immigrants, and the undocumented to have legal employment for up to six years. The only problem with this bill is that there is no guarantee of an extension beyond six years, which, of course, should be granted unless the person has a criminal record during that time period.

In fact, my own view is that any crime other than a misdemeanor should include automatic deportation after punishment is served. Two Senators, John Kyl of Arizona and John Cornyn of Texas, are attempting to force a vote that would establish a program that would require all temporary workers to leave the country after two years, after which the person must return to their home country for one year and reapply, with a maximum of three visits (for a total of six years).

Hopefully, a more moderate and reasonable version of the legislation will eventually be adopted, such as the idea of "earned legalization" promoted by Sen. McCain of Arizona and Sen. Kennedy of Massachusetts. The struggle here with many conservatives is that some see this as granting amnesty, when in reality it simply accounts for the true actions of the person and rewards the individual accordingly. However, with over 11 million "illegal immigrants" in the country, it is simply not realistic to round up all of them, and to put this burden on the employer would be an administrative nightmare by all accounts. President Bush needs to take a stance and stay with it. He needs to take a stand on this issue and use his influence to get these fragmented congressmen and senators in line with a reasonable program.

Most likely, we'll see some sort of a stalemate and nothing will happen in the near future, which may just be the best thing until reasonable voices can prevail.

Now is the time for the construction industry to be actively involved in this political process. I know most of us shy away from getting involved in politics, but this issue is something we need to tackle or the stability and future of the Latino workforce will be endangered. Many are reticent to stand up and be counted on this issue publicly, but at some point we must begin to make our voices heard.

In any event, I want to help prepare you so you can begin to make any necessary changes to avoid serious repercussions in the event bad legislation is eventually passed.

Preparing for the Future

We tend to fear future legislation, but the facts are still the facts in the present. With this in mind, allow me to remind you that 66 percent of all Latinos in the United States are legally documented. The pool of workers within this group of people is large, although, admittedly, a large portion of the worker population in the construction industry is undocumented. It would be difficult for many businesses to see these valuable workers forced to leave the country.

However, the battle is not with the undocumented people, it is with the United States government that continues in extreme political polarization that keeps businesses and common workers unstable and insecure. This is no way to approach things at all.

Something must be done, and I believe that the construction industry is the industry that must begin to push a realistic agenda to government for some resolution here. This is a major industry in the United States, and its solvency is critical to the overall well being of the U.S. economy. We cannot continue to have raids on jobsites endangering the very stability of our country's economy. This is foolish!

Many construction environments across the country employ well over 50 percent Latino workers. Without the Latino workers in the construction industry, we would have some real serious problems. The same could be said to some degree of the landscaping, food service, manufacturing and hospitality industries.

Personally, I favor a guest worker program that allows for amnesty after five years of positive work records and criminal-free living. I mean, if a person comes to this country and for five years is willing to work hard, pay taxes and obey the law, doesn't he or she earn the right to live in this country legally?

We should be taking examples of Latinos before our congressmen and senators to help them to begin to truly understand the situation. We should force this issue because if we don't take the battle to them, we will be at the mercy of more decisions that most likely will be cumbersome and harmful.

My goodness, almost all of our ancestors came into this country undocumented! I doubt the pilgrims on the Mayflower were sporting a nice pair of Dockers with a custom-made pocket for their visas and passports.

I believe we must control immigration, but for us to be so arrogant as to be calling these people "illegal" and "aliens" is incredulous to me. They are undocumented people. Most of them are hardworking, law-abiding, taxpaying citizens just like you and I.

I encourage you to make your voice and views known to your local congressmen and senators. If you do not speak now, you may pay a big price later.