Despite Relentless High American Unemployment, Reps. Poe and Labrador Double Down on Worker Visas

Published on August 13th, 2013

Many are the disappointments in the current congressional immigration debate. About two months ago, we learned that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) thinks that American workers just aren’t up to the task. In June, shortly after Rubio rejected a Senate amendment that would protect unionized American construction workers from illegal immigrants, an unnamed aide said:

There shouldn’t be a presumption that every American worker is a star performer. There are people who just can’t get it, can’t do it, don’t want to do it. And so you can’t obviously discuss that publicly.

Two weeks ago, House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, who we thought was an ally, held a hearing about the KIDS Act, an updated version of the maligned DREAM Act which has been defeated in various versions nearly two dozen times since it was first introduced in 2001. Of Goodlatte’s eight witnesses, all supported legislation that would legalize illegal immigrant youth and allow them to enroll in colleges at reduced tuition rates.

Now U.S. Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) has teamed with Raul Labrador (R-ID) to double the proposed 200,000 total low-skilled visas included in the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744, to 400,000. Labrador practiced immigration law privately from 1995 until his election to the House in 2006.

Said Poe to The Wall Street Journal (August 2, 2013):

We could use 15,000 [visas] the first day in Texas. We have that much demand for construction workers.

Poe’s double talk doesn’t stand up under scrutiny. Unemployment among construction workers, although improved since 2012, is still at a too-high 9.1 percent. For employed construction workers or any other types of workers to keep their jobs, they need tight labor markets. As any Econ 101 student knows, more work visas, especially hundreds of thousands of them, dilute the market.

The visas Poe and Labrador want would apply to other jobs too, mainly in the hospitality and health care sector. Housekeepers, cooks, clerical staff and nurse assistants would be at risk from the cheap foreign-born labor that Poe and Labrador want to import. Vulnerable Americans who work at low wage jobs would be immediately at risk.

In S. 744, the “W” visa – conceptually identical to the Poe/Labrador version – would require foreign nationals in the United States on a work visa to find a job within 60 days and would eventually lead to citizenship.

The Senate provided no details on what could be done with those who obtain “W” visas, but never find jobs, or lose their jobs. One unworkable idea lawmakers proposed would provide jobless W visa holders protections by incentivizing registered employers to hire them before the federal government issued more visas.

Here’s my better idea. Industries that allegedly can’t find workers and who are lobbying for more visas should offer Americans higher wages. With 22 million Americans unemployed or underemployed, the available jobs would quickly be snapped up.

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