Near Thing: Americans Jobs Saved In Congress—But For How Long?
January 03, 2006, 04:00 AM
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On November 2, 2005 Sen. Robert Byrd's words rang out on the floor of the Senate: "this is baffling … it's BAFFLING! …. BAFFLING!!! …. It is baffling, I say!" [Watch it in RealVideo.]

But Byrd's valiant speech on behalf of American workers failed to shame Senators from burying a provision deep inside the Omnibus Spending Bill of 2005—a provision that could have destroyed thousands of American jobs: a dramatic increase in "employment-based visas."

Fortunately, the threat was parried in the last legislative stages, right before Christmas. However, there's a moral for immigration reformers: it's not over till it's over. The other side are like a barrel-load of monkeys. Foiling their tricks will take relentless vigilance—and ruthless determination.

This bipartisan betrayal of American labor began when Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced an amendment to the Omnibus Spending bill allowing the government to sell an additional 350,000 employment-based visas—ostensibly to raise money to fund the U.S. budget deficit.

Supporters of the scheme, such as Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), claimed that by selling these visas the U.S. could raise $113 million (phooey!) to help finance for our $2.6 trillion (aargh!) federal budget.

Senator Chambliss made a comment on the floor of the Senate that was all too typical: "The reconciliation package, passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, by a vote of 14 to 2, will generate $45 million annually from H -1B visa fees."

Only in Washington DC is it a good idea to finance an infinitesimal fraction (less than a hundredth of one percent) of the U.S. budget by forcing unemployment on thousands U.S. workers.

The foreigners who enter the U.S. on employment-based visas often seek some of our most desired jobs, in fields such as engineering, computer programming, science, teaching, and medicine. Employment-based visas are supported by industry because the importation of foreigners cuts labor costs by replacing U.S. workers with immigrants who are willing to accept lower salaries and fewer benefits.

But, despite the fact that middle class workers are having increasing difficulty finding meaningful employment, and despite the fact that salaries for U.S. workers are declining, the Senators of the 109th Congress seemed unfazed. Thousands of Americans would lose jobs because of the visa sale—and yet it didn't seem to occur to any of them that unemployed citizens cease to be taxpayers, and therefore contribute to government deficits.

This lame-brained scheme would have ended up costing the treasury over $3 billion in lost income tax revenue. But most of the Senate seemed undaunted by this fact.  

The Specter/Kennedy fundraising excuse was phony. Senators simply used it to hide their sell-out to a consortium of powerful corporate special interest groups known as the "cheap labor lobby".

Wads of corporate cash were spent to lobby the Senators and the lure of that money was the most significant factor in the near unanimous decision to vote in favor of the visa increase. Microsoft spent so much time and money on Capitol Hill lobbying for the H-1B increase that some Washington DC insiders were calling the legislation the "Bill Gates" bill.

Arlen Specter's amendment included the sale of 90,000 employment-based Green Cards for permanent residency, and to sweeten the pot further, approximately 270,000 spouses and children of the visa holders would be given authorization to work in the U.S.

Employers were to get an additional 30,000 H-1B temporary guest-worker visas on top of the current 85,000 per year cap. All told, up to 350,000 foreigners would be given permission by Congress to work in the United States.

Sneaking the enormous visa increase in the Omnibus Spending Bill was a slam dunk in the Senate. But it sank like a lead balloon in the House of Representatives—perhaps because there was a competing bill to reform immigration: "The Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005," or H.R. 4437.

Nevertheless, attempts were still made to slip visa increases into HR 4437, most notably the by two Arizona congressmen.

Jeff Flake (R-AZ) failed in his misguided effort to put language in HR 4437 that spelled out the need for an expanded foreign guest worker program. And an amendment by J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) that boosted the number of employment based Green Cards from 140,000 a year to 205,000 was quietly removed when House members began to sour on visa increases.

Hayworth's amendment would have raised the number of Green Cards by 65,000. One of Hayworth's staffers explained to me that Hayworth feels the U.S. needs foreign workers and that it's better to give them permanent residency than to give them temporary guest worker visas.

Hayworth also claims that he opposes amnesty. Yet he doesn't seem to understand that his Green Card giveaway is tantamount to giving amnesty to visa over-stayers and H-1Bs who want to become permanent residents.

Hayworth is known as an Arizonan who is tough-on-immigration. So it was quite a surprise when he voted against HR 4437. To read Hayworth's convoluted rationale used to justify his vote against H.R. 4437 read his Washington Times op-ed Time for an immigration-enforcement bill. (December 14, 2005)

But when the final Budget Reconciliation Bill was passed by both the House and Senate, the big surprise was that the cheap labor lobby failed to get ITS cherished visa increase. Shockingly, the House prevailed over the Senate. The decision was made to leave out visa increases.

Historically, the corporate lobbyists have always succeeded in pressuring Congress to slip visa increases into spending bills—the 20,000 increase in H-1B visas in the 2004 budget bill and the increase of H-1B visas from 65,000 to 115,000 in the 1999 budget bill are notable examples.

This surprising defeat showed that the open-borders lobby is really on the defensive.

The big question: why didn't Congress approve the visa increase?

It would be a mistake to conclude that 350,000 jobs were saved due to a new patriotic fervor in Congress. Without doubt, House members felt pressure from immigration reform groups such as NumbersUSA, FAIR, Californians for Population Stabilization, and a few dissident labor unions [VDARE.COM note: See Don Collins article on labor and immigration today].

But the outcry they generated was not the sole reason the visa increases languished. The sad fact is that while the debate raged in Congress, most American workers didn't know what was going on.

Visa increases were most likely rejected because a minority of representatives such as Tom Tancredo (R-CO) opposed putting immigration provisions in the budget bill as a matter of principle, and pragmatists such as Lamar Smith (R-TX) wanted to avoid controversial provisions that could slow the approval of the critically urgent budget bill. Lamar Smith probably expressed a majority view when he said: "This is not the time or place for controversial immigration provisions. We're going to need every Republican we can get to pass the budget reconciliation bill."

Sensing defeat, the cheap-labor lobby probably didn't push hard for the visa increase when they realized that the amendment to budget bill was running into trouble in the House.

But their long term goal is still to get much larger increases in visas for their corporate constituencies. They have merely decided to fight another day. They intend to lobby for a much larger comprehensive immigration bill this year, containing a guest-worker bill that will allow employers to obtain unlimited numbers of visas to import foreign labor into the U.S.

Sandra Boyd, a spokesperson for the corporate-funded lobby group CompeteAmerica, has made their intentions known on their website: "We will expect these issues to receive serious consideration by the appropriate committees early next year." [VDARE.COM note: CompeteAmerica is a "coalition of more than 200 corporations, universities, research institutions and trade associations" dedicated to a better, cheaper, less American labor force. Email them here.]

As labor economist Gary Becker at the Hoover Institution has argued: "I am proposing that H-1B visas be folded into a much larger, employment 'based green card program. The annual quota should be multiplied and there should be no upper bound on the numbers from any single country." [Give Us Your Skilled Masses, WSJ, December 1, 2005]

Considering that in 2006 there are 435 House Representatives and 35 Senators up for re-election, there is hope that visa increases can be blocked.

If Americans speak loudly enough, incumbents will decide that winning re-election is more important than appeasing the corporate lobbyists.

Rob Sanchez (email him) is a Senior Writing Fellow for Californians for Population Stabilization and author of the "Job Destruction Newsletter" (sign up for it here) at www.JobDestruction.com. To make a tax-deductible donation to Rob Sanchez, click here.