By Joe Guzzardi
February 19, 2014
Alabama U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks and his North Carolina colleague Walter Jones have asked House leadership the simplest, most direct question about the immigration legalization bill that, despite Speaker John Boehner’s statement to the contrary, is still under backroom consideration.
In their letter to the leadership that included Boehner and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, Brooks and Jones inquired about the total number of working-age legal immigrants, employer-sponsored green cards, guest workers, and amnestied illegal immigrants that over the next decade would be given legal status.
Rephrased, the two curious legislators want to know the aggregate number of foreign workers who would be added to the U.S. labor pool that has already experienced a four- fold immigration increase during the last four decades. Whatever the total may be, the newly authorized workers would arrive during a period when U.S. wages have been depressed for forty years, 20 million Americans can’t find a full time job and nearly 90 million Americans are out of the labor force.
Not surprisingly, Brooks and Jones can’t get an answer. One frightening hint though came last summer when Goodlatte, whose Virginia district includes Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley and its poultry industry, introduced H.R. 1773 which would create a new guest worker visa. The H-2C would allow at least 500,000 foreign nationals to come to the U.S. to work in poultry plants, factories, warehouses, nursing homes, restaurants, hotels and other low wage retail service sectors.
Goodlatte’s bill, co-sponsored by South Carolina’s Trey Gowdy who also serves as the Judiciary Subcommittee chair on Immigration and Border Security, gives disturbing insights into the House leadership’s mindset.
For American workers, H.R. 1773, the Agricultural Guest Worker Act, would be a top to bottom disaster. To begin with, it’s non-seasonal and replaces the more practical seasonal H-2A visa. The new H-2C visa would extend the time period a guest worker can stay from 12 months to 18 or 36 months and would grant automatic amnesty to illegal immigrants already within the U.S. working in agriculture.
Buried in H.R. 1773’s fine print are provisions that allow the Homeland Security Secretary discretionary authority to waive the three and ten year bars to admission for previously removed illegal immigrants who are the spouses or children of either U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.
Some the bill’s conditions are unenforceable; others are comical. No amount of oversight can guarantee that the visa holder will, as required, report to the job site during the maximum 7-day period after entry, or depart 14-days after termination or find a new job within 30-days after being fired. As for withholding 10 percent of workers’ wages to establish a trust fund that would be returned only upon exiting, that’s too convoluted to take seriously.
Worst of all, any expansion of guest visas would devastate Americans who currently work as custodians, housekeepers, kitchen staff and, yes, in agriculture. New research from the Economic Policy Institute found that low-wage earners in every state except West Virginia, Mississippi and North Dakota have suffered a 6.4 percent decline in their hourly pay.
Congress should concern itself with how it can improve its most vulnerable citizens’ earning power. The fat cats who would benefit the most from more cheap labor can fend for themselves.
Joe Guzzardi is a Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow whose columns have been syndicated since 1987. Contact him at [email protected]