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Cranford pizza shop owner pushes for pathway to citizenship for immigrants

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At Il Giardino Pizza, in Cranford, it takes four people to keep the eatery up and running. There's Anthony Scuderi, the owner, who's on site roughly 12 hours a day, six days a week. And then there are his three employees — all of whom are from Mexico and willing to work the grueling 12-hour days he said many Americans scoff at.

"I've had people come (to work here), and all of a sudden they just don't show up the next day or two," Scuderi said. "It's a hard job because it's long hours."

The immigrants that have passed through his pizza parlor, however, tend to have a stronger work ethic when it comes to tough, manual labor, he said. Some of his employees have been there for six years now.

"To them, this is the land of opportunity," Scuderi said.

And, he added, "if we didn't need them, they wouldn't be coming here."

Scuderi spoke out on the immigration issue as part of a press conference held by the New Jersey Main Street Alliance, a coalition of more than 1,400 small-business owners, to push for immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship for those already here and working. Several other pizza shop owners were scheduled to attend, but couldn't for last-minute reasons, said Corinne Horowitz, a representative from the alliance.

"We need to make it easier for small-business owners to hire," Horowitz said.

In statements, the other owners said a path to citizenship would help both small businesses and their employees.

Dario Fernandez, owner of Rudy's Pizza, in Garwood, said he came to the United States 30 years ago to escape a civil war in San Salvador and started working low-end jobs in the restaurant business.

"Some business owners undercut wages for immigrants. I know, because I was one of those workers," Fernandez said in a statement. "Congress should pass immigration reform (so) everyone could have the same opportunities I've had — to work legally, start businesses, create jobs and grow the economy."

The press conference was timed to occur on the same day as a town hall meeting in Gillette hosted by U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-Westfield).

Lance recently returned from a tour of the Mexican border during which he said he saw a body floating in the Rio Grande. Lance said that affirmed to him that securing the borders must be a top priority.

"I favor addressing (immigration reform) component by component," Lance said in an interview. "The first component I wish to address is securing the border."

The other components include: the need for qualified workers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math; the "dreamers" who came here as children and did not directly disobey the law; and those immigrants who came here illegally as adults.

Scuderi, of Il Giardino, said he doesn't believe immigrants are taking jobs away from American workers. He hires those people who are willing to do the job and work hard. He doesn't perform background checks to determine if they're legal. He supplies every employee, regardless of where they may have come from, with 1040 forms at the end of the year and tells them to pay their taxes.

"They do great jobs," Scuderi said. "Why make it more difficult for them?"

Reporter Mary Johnson is @mjohns422 on Twitter.

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