When he’s not serving as Charlotte County commissioner or running his construction company, Bill Truex often finds himself in places that are worlds apart.
Those places are Washington, D.C. and the border towns between Mexico and the United States.
His mission is the same in all of these places — to help the country develop a better immigration plan.
In recognition of his contributions to a new immigration policy, Truex was recently asked to be part of a conference call with White House immigration policy writers. In that call, Truex told the Sun, he heard echoes of some of the advice he has been giving legislators and White House advisers for several years now.
“I was sitting there with a big smile on my face,” he told the Sun of the conference call. “They had listened to my insights at a previous meeting and started modifying their direction in reflection of some of the things I brought to the table.”
To the White House and congressional legislators, his advice has been to steer clear of a full merit-based system that only invites immigrants of high skill or high income. Such a system, he said, would devastate many U.S. industries that desperately need immigrant labor. He seeks a middle ground, which is where most American citizens sit, he said.
“We have got to look at the industries across the country to find out where we have shortages and why we have shortages,” Truex said.
That system also fails to address the crisis at the border, he said, where immigrants seeking asylum or a better life show up only to be detained for long periods of time in the U.S. or to be crowded into shelters or the streets of Mexico where their status remains in limbo.
“When I was down on the border, you could definitely see the humanitarian side of this,” he said.
He spoke with a single mother with children on the American side who had paid drug cartel smugglers $14,000 to get her and her children across where they now waited to find out their future.
Other mothers he spoke to were waiting in shelters on the Mexican side where they said women who dared leave the shelter never came back.
Truex respects American border patrol workers as well as the Mexican contribution to humanitarian aid. Border patrol, he said, struggles to ensure no children are being trafficked as slaves. But in the process, grandmothers are separated from their grandchildren, because Congress won’t change the rules to permit them guardianship.
Truex wants to help this country to create a more modern immigration system where people who want to work in the United States can apply from their home country, possibly online, rather than expanding the antiquated paper system to American embassies abroad.
How did a man from Indiana get involved with immigration? It’s not from his own company, he said, where he has 11 long-standing employees. He said he believes it is his ability to stay focused on the task at hand that led his colleagues on the National Association of Counties to ask him to chair a subcommittee on immigration several years ago.
“I was selected because I don’t play partisan politics. I literally know how to pull people back to where they need to be focused,” he said.
A mayor on the committee tried to steer the debate toward President Donald Trump’s multi-billion dollar border wall.
“I said, ‘Madame Mayor, stop right there. We’re not here to talk about the wall. That is a matter for Homeland Security.’”
As a commissioner and a business owner, Truex has seen the crisis for American employers. His construction subcontractors, he said, cannot find employees, particularly in the area of electricians, heating ventilation and cooling.
While meeting with other municipal leaders across the nation, he said, he has learned of dire situations. At the famous Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, he said, an executive told him they cannot find enough housekeepers even after paying $19 an hour, two meals a day and free daycare.
A dairy farmer in Montana cannot find workers, because he needs them year round, and the guest worker system in this country does not allow that.
Closer to home, a blueberry farmer in Pasco County left fruit in the field for lack of workers, Truex said.
With the struggles of Ceasar’s Palace on his mind, Truex said he hopes to meet with John Redmond soon. Redmond is the president of Allegiant Travel Co., which expects to open Sunseeker’s first 680 hotel rooms and suites along Charlotte Harbor in 2021.
Truex does not blame the White House for lack of progress on immigration reform.
“I’ve met people on both sides of the aisles that have been very helpful,” he said, but added that some senate staff have been dismissive, to say the least.
The polar extremes include demands for open borders on the left, he said, which he believes is unrealistic.
On the right, Truex’s suggestions have been in line with the White House reported policy view, which is that the United States should be offering work visas, not a guaranteed path to citizenship for workers.
Veering from the strict conservative view point, Truex said he wants to persuade his fellow Republicans to be open to immigrants whose work visas have expired.
“Let’s find a way to get them back in the system,” he said. “If we send back 12 million people, we’ll break our country...It will crush us economically.”
His plan for the future advocacy?
“We just keep knocking on doors,” he said.