In the wake of this month’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino, in which one of the perpetrators managed to enter the country on a K-1 “fiancée” visa without being detected, the least popular policy at the moment is increasing access to the US. Numerous polls now show confidence in the federal government plummeting when it comes to securing the nation. The big debate at the moment isn’t on whether to increase visa access, but whether it needs to get shut down for a while until we can improve scrutiny on applicants.
So what did elected representatives Congress do when it came time to pass a large omnibus bill to complete the FY2016 budget process? Sneak a large increase in foreign-worker visas into the legislation, of course, as the Free Beacon reported yesterday:
The upcoming appropriations legislation would massively expand the foreign worker program, quadrupling the issuance of low-wage visas, according to an analysis from Sen. Jeff Sessions’ (R., Ala.) office.
The H-2B visa program allows employers to hire foreign workers to come temporarily into the United States to work either in nonagricultural labor or a temporary service job. For example, some workers who use the H-2B visa program could be employed as a housekeeper, an amusement park worker, or a landscape laborer.
According to the senator’s office, the language in the omnibus would as much as quadruple the issuance of these low-wage visas, which would replace Americans in blue-collar jobs such as truck driving, restaurant work, and construction. This is happening at a time when record numbers of Americas are not working at all.
“Our immigration system must serve the national interest,” Sessions says. “Flooding this loose labor market with additional low-skill labor hurts the wages and reduces the job prospects of those who are recent immigrants and native-born who are struggling the most.”
The Hill picks up on the bubbling controversy this morning:
The $1.1 trillion omnibus bill includes language that would dramatically increase the number of visas available for foreign workers, setting off alarm bells among conservatives and labor unions.
Congressional leaders quietly slipped the provision into the 2,009-page funding bill, with rank-and-file lawmakers only discovering it Wednesday morning. The move immediately sparked protests from both ends of the political spectrum. …
But the uproar over the visa provision isn’t confined to conservatives.
The AFL-CIO and the International Labor Working Group, powerhouses in the labor movement, also took aim at the visa provision, warning it would lead to exploitation of foreign workers and Americans losing jobs.
“The language basically rolls back protections for low-wage workers and guest workers and American workers in this industry while lowering the protections for workers,” said Joleen Rivera, a legislative representative at the AFL-CIO.
The news of the agreement on the omnibus plan came out during Tuesday night’s presidential debate, prompting more than a few people to wonder whether it was timed to get buried in the media. This revelation guarantees that strategy will fail, if that was the original intent. It also points up a chronic problem with omnibus bills, which is that they become vehicles to hide and railroad bad policy through Congress. Paul Ryan pledged to stop that as Speaker, but this makes it pretty clear that he’s failed at least in his first attempt.
What’s even more puzzling is how anyone in Congress thought this would be a good idea in this month particularly. Other committees want to hold hearings about failings in our current visa system after the San Bernardino terror attack, and voters are clearly skittish about it as well. Shouldn’t a decision to vastly expand another part of that system come after those problems have been aired and identified, if not resolved? And what’s the big rush to hire foreign workers at this point in time rather than Americans? Shouldn’t that also get explained in open hearings rather than slipped into bills in the midnight hour?
Congress should kill the expanded visas immediately, and those who authored those provisions should be publicly identified. Let them defend their proposals openly, and bear the accountability for them personally.