The National Restaurant Association (NRA) has called on Congress and the Bush Administration to make immigration reform a priority in 2002. 

Speaking at the National Immigration Forum‘s annual conference in Washington, Lee Culpepper, the NRA’s senior VP of Government Affairs and Public Policy, explained that the immigration question is intrinsically linked to the worker shortage difficulties dogging the restaurant industry. 

“As the nation’s largest private-sector employer and largest employer of immigrants – currently 1.4 million – the restaurant industry has a long and proud history of providing career opportunities to people from all cultures and backgrounds,” he said. 

The NRA has long argued that changes in immigration laws should be made to address the US’s work force needs. Last year, in terms of job growth, the restaurant industry had its strongest second quarter in seven years. In 2001, it created 101,000 jobs, approximately 22% of all jobs created in the overall economy. It is expected that the industry will create 1.4 million new jobs by 2010.

Culpepper, who serves on the Forum’s Board of Directors, added: “We are encouraged by the reassurances of President Bush and the President of Mexico, Vicente Fox that even though the government has heightened its focus on national security issues, discussions concerning other important initiatives, like immigration reform and worker shortages, will continue. 

“We urge the Administration and Congress to undertake the issue of essential workers, and look forward to working with them to acknowledge the contributions hard-working, taxpaying immigrants make to our country.” 

Delegates at the conference included immigrant, refugee, labor, business, community, and government advocates. It was designed to discuss the challenges presented by the 11 September attacks and create new strategies for the future of immigration in the US.