Buried in the 2,000-page omnibus spending bill released by the Senate Wednesday morning is a secret provision that many senators hope unemployed blue-collar workers won’t find out about.
This provision would quadruple the number of H-2B visas for low-skilled foreign “guest workers.” It would allow more than a quarter-of-a-million foreign workers to enter the U.S. each year and work in the construction industry, hotel-motel services, truck drivers, food processing, forestry and many other fields that don’t require a college education.
A vote on the spending bill is expected late Thursday night, possibly after midnight, sources on the Hill told WND.
The bill also includes funding for all of President Obama’s foreign refugee resettlement program and does nothing to stop the proliferation of so-called “sanctuary cities.”
Legal immigration is already at an all-time high, with 1.1 million foreign-born persons coming to the U.S. every year, and a recent Pew Research poll shows 83 percent of the voting public wishes to see the level of immigration frozen or reduced.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., reportedly helped negotiate the omnibus deal. The spending bill also includes full funding for President Obama’s refugee resettlement program, which will cost $1.6 billion and bring in another 85,000 refugees this year, many of them from jihadist hotbeds like Syria, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The timing of the bill comes as a record number of blue-collar American workers can’t find a job at all, said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
“At a time when the civilian labor force participation rate in the U.S. is approximately 62.4%, now is not the time to advance legislation further depressing wages and employment for U.S. workers,” Sessions said in a letter to the chairs of the Senate appropriations committee.
But this is not the first time Congress has tried to include such a dramatic infusion of foreign labor into the lower rung of the U.S. job market.
The Gang of Eight bill in 2013, co-sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, also increased the controversial H-2B visa that brings in foreign workers to fill jobs as construction workers, restaurant employees, hotel maids and industrial workers.
In just the case of construction, there are six unemployed construction workers for each job opening, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute. Yet the omnibus released around 2 a.m, Wednesday, would as much as quadruple the H-2B visa in an unadvertised provision secreted into the more than 2,000-page bill.
Labor unions are expected to kick up a fuss, but the bill could be voted on before news of the provision reaches the rank and file.
The last-minute insert was sponsored by Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. A bipartisan group of senators opposes the bill, including Sessions, Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
The bill appears to be a copy of the Save Our Small and Seasonal Business Act, or SOSSBA, according to an op-ed in National Review by immigration attorney Ian Smith.
“Like SOSSBA, the Mikulski-Tillis bill would exclude returning H-2B temporary workers from the normal annual cap of 66,000. Although SOSSBA was previously in place, Congress failed to renew it in 2008. The H-2B program is designed to import temporary, seasonal, non-agricultural guest workers, mostly in the areas of landscaping, forestry, hotels, seafood processing, restaurants, amusement parks, and construction. Many of these unskilled jobs traditionally go to society’s most vulnerable — including single women, the disabled, the elderly, minorities, teenagers, students, and first-generation immigrants.”
Chamber of Commerce backs guest-worker program
But large corporate employers love the program because, as with the H-1B program for skilled foreign guest-workers, the worker’s visa is tied to his employment. This makes him more easily controllable and less likely to be lured away by a competitor.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce lists expanding the H-2B program as one of its “Policy Priorities for 2015.”
“And like most of our immigration programs, the H-2B operates mechanistically, giving jobs to foreign workers without any consideration for domestic labor conditions: Regardless of the state of the economy, the cap stays the same,” Smith writes.
Although SOSSBA includes a reference to “small businesses,” most H-2B employers, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, are not small or seasonal – they are mid- to large-size companies and recruiters who petition for H-2Bs so they can hire employees who work in the U.S. for 10 months out of the year, year after year, said Smith, who works for the Immigration Reform Law Institute.
And that’s why the corporate lobby, led by the Chamber, is pushing hard for this provision. This lobby has invested heavily in North Carolina’s junior senator, Thom Tillis, and in Maryland’s Mikulski.
“In 2008, CIS found that Mikulski, a long-time champion of SOSSBA, received tens of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from the biggest users of the program,” Smith said.
Like Maryland, Tillis’s state of North Carolina is a big user of the program.
“His state in particular was recently the subject of an investigative Buzzfeed report about H-2Bs. The report, which also profiled the nearly identical H-2A program for temporary agricultural workers, zeroed in on the program’s loopholes and its damaging effects on American labor, most notably on African Americans,” Smith writes.
Although the H-2B program requires employers to advertise job openings prior to petitioning for guest workers, the ads are designed to attract as little attention from American workers as possible, according to Smith.
“Buzzfeed found that while employers do post ads for American workers, they employ numerous strategies to make sure no one actually responds. The investigation found that one guest-worker employer, Talbott’s Honey of South Dakota, ran ads in newspapers in Texas and New Mexico, hundreds of miles away from its area of operation. Similarly, in North Carolina, the state’s online job board incorrectly posted seasonal Christmas-tree-cutting jobs ‘in the wrong counties, sometimes hundreds of miles from any pine forests.'”
As a result, Buzzfeed reported, “workers looking for Christmas-tree work close to home face a peculiar paradox: The only way to find the openings nearby is to search in a faraway corner of the state.” Other ads across the country simply failed to include contact information or the name of the company.
Another clever tactic of H-2B employers is to include overly stringent requirements in the want ads.
Lori Johnson, a lawyer from Legal Aid of North Carolina, told Buzzfeed that there is little evidence such requirements are ever imposed on the foreign guest workers who ultimately get the jobs. The ads are designed to “filter out U.S. workers,” Johnson concludes.
This may explain why, in fiscal 2015, only 505 American farmworkers in North Carolina found jobs from listings on the state’s Department of Commerce’s website, even though more than 7,000 American farmworkers in the state had registered with the agency to seek work.
“Quadrupling the number of H-2B visas will artificially increase competition for the jobs that typically go to the nation’s most vulnerable. Black unemployment in North Carolina, for instance, is 17 percent, four times the U.S. average and the fourth-highest rate for blacks across the nation. Members of Congress from Maryland and North Carolina, such as Congressional Black Caucus chairman G. K. Butterfield (D., N.C.), should join the bipartisan effort to condemn the bill,” Smith concluded.
There’s a reason GOP voters are in ‘open rebellion’
Sessions is leading the opposition from the conservative side.
The voters put Republicans in a majority in the 2014 midterm elections – a vote that constituted a clear decision to reject the abuse of our immigration system.
That loyalty has been repaid with betrayal, Sessions said in a statement released Wednesday.
“On top of this provision, the omnibus approves – without conditions – the president’s request for increased refugee admissions, allowing him to bring in as many refugees as he wants, from anywhere he wants, and then allow them to access unlimited amounts of welfare and entitlements at taxpayer expense. This will ensure that at least 170,000 green card, refugee and asylum approvals are issued to migrants from Muslim countries over just the next 12 months.
“In March, … I sent appropriators a list of several dozen provisions for inclusion in our funding bills to improve immigration enforcement and block presidential lawlessness; those provisions were rejected – yet industry’s request for more foreign workers, and the president’s request for refugee funds, were unconditionally approved.
“The bill also funds sanctuary cities and illegal alien resettlement, allows the president to continue issuing visas to countries that refuse to repatriate violent criminal aliens, and funds the president’s ongoing lawless immigration actions – including his unimpeded 2012 executive amnesty for alien youth.
“As feared, the effect is to fund the president’s entire immigration agenda.”
There’s a reason that GOP voters are in “open rebellion,” Sessions said.
“This legislation represents a further disenfranchisement of the American voter,” Sessions said.