Congressman-elect Greg Pence said he would like to see the United States allow more immigrants into the country, through a reformed visa system, because it would meet a need expressed by manufacturers, particularly in Indiana 6th District.
When the Columbus businessman is sworn in as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives early next year, he will begin representing a manufacturing-rich district that has a keen interest in U.S. and global issues such as immigration, trade and tariffs.
Indiana’s 6th District is home to Fortune 200 power company Cummins Inc., which is headquartered in Columbus and has global operations, plus many other manufacturers.
While tariffs have dominated headlines recently, Pence said a bigger concern for Cummins is the need for more H-1B visas. That type of visa allows U.S. employers to employ foreign workers for designated periods of time in specialty occupations.
“Everywhere I went in the 6th District, everyone told me ‘I need more workers,’ “ Pence said.
Some manufacturers said they would bring some plant operations in Mexico back to U.S. if they could find enough workers, the congressman-elect said.
That would necessitate more immigrants — a high-stakes topic in the U.S.
Debate has been ongoing about the Deferred Action for Children Arrivals (DACA) program, a 2012 executive order by President Obama regarding young immigrants brought into the U.S. illegally as children. Now young adults, referred to as “Dreamers,” they have been allowed to stay in the country to work.
A compassionate solution for the Dreamers is a no-brainer, said Pence, who noted a personal connection to immigrants. His maternal grandfather, Richard Michael Cawley, came from Ireland, and his wife’s family came from Italy, he said.
“We need more immigrants. We need to get over some of these small components like DACA. We need to accept these DACA people, fit them into society and come up with a path to citizenship to be law-abiding citizens, and then start bringing in more people,” Pence said.
Reforming the U.S. visa system is overdue, Pence said, and should be driven by need, including hourly workers and those with doctorates.
One component of an immigration solution Pence supports is building a wall along the southern U.S. border.
“I do believe we should build the wall. We lock our doors. We lock our cars. Know who’s coming in and then bring more in,” he said.
A tariff battle on imported goods between the U.S. and other countries such as China, Canada and Mexico has caused concern for manufacturers such as Cummins, which consider a tariff a tax on their goods.
Cummins Chairman and CEO Tom Linebarger said the company estimates it will have a $250 million hit to the company next year because of tariffs.
“If I were Cummins, I would be concerned. As a resident of Columbus, Indiana, and the 6th District, I am concerned on Cummins’ behalf as well,” Pence said.
The congressman-elect said he has talked with Cummins leaders about tariffs, as well as other manufacturers on the campaign trail, particularly those affected by steel and aluminum.
“Everybody was concerned and people were affected at different degrees and levels,” he said.
The U.S. and China are currently at a tariff cease-fire while the countries try to work out solutions. President Donald Trump has agreed to postpone U.S. tariff hikes related to China’s technology policy.
China has been accused of stealing U.S. technology.
“I do believe the intellectual property element is something no one disagrees with. We have to get the Chinese to come to the table and stop stealing or reverse-engineering our patents and our property,” Pence said.
The pause in the tariff tiff between the U.S. and China gives Pence hope that a longer-term solution can be reached.
“I think solutions can be reached, and we saw a little progress,” he said.
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"We need more immigrants. We need to get over some of these small components like DACA. We need to accept these DACA people, fit them into society and come up with a path to citizenship to be law-abiding citizens, and then start bringing in more people."
— Congressman-elect Greg Pence