House Speaker Paul Ryan is still trying to defend his omnibus spending bill that will allow up to 200,000 low-wage immigrants who could replace blue-collar Americans in 2016.
His latest defense, however, suggests his pro-business ideology prevents him from understanding what’s happening outside the Beltway, say immigration reformers.
Ryan’s argument for the H-2B outsourcing program “suggests a real tin-ear for the concerns of ordinary Republican voters… these guys just have no idea how pissed off their own voters are,” says Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for a low-immigration/high-wage national labor policy.
“He’s like the Jeb Bush crew who don’t get what the people are thinking,” said John Miano, author of a new book, “Sold Out,” about the replacement of white-collar Americans by foreign guest-workers. “Or he’s working for Donald Trump,” Miano added.
Ryan’s defense was posted Dec. 22 on the House Speaker’s website.
“No, the Omnibus Doesn’t Quadruple Visas for Foreign Workers… And Nothing Was ‘Slipped’ into the Bill Either… A Narrow Program… Only 8,000 Workers – and Only Temporarily … Passed through Committee—without Controversy—Back in July,” report the headers in his statement.
Some, however, are distorting one small provision in the bill related to temporary work visas. It’s making a mountain out of a molehill… let’s keep this provision in perspective. It’s a small change, it went through the regular committee process, and it should not overshadow the significant conservative wins that the House approved.
Each year, the H-2B program allows employers to bring in up to 66,000 foreign laborers for jobs in restaurants, resorts, hotels, theme parks, forests, and landscaping jobs. The visa-workers take the place of Americans, can stay up to nine months, and can be hired by a labor broker to work at a series of different supposedly jobs.
That inflow is part of the 700,000 new guest-workers who arrive each year, to compete for jobs against roughly 12 million illegals, 1 million new legal immigrants and roughly 4.4 million young Americans who enter the labor force.
Amid that huge inflow, the wages earned by blue-collar Americans have been flat since the late 1990s, pushing more lower-income workers into dependence on the welfare state.
The H-2B program has come under increasing criticism from a wide range of media and advocacy outlets, so congressional leaders sought to hide the replacement program from the public in the huge 2016 appropriations budget, and then rush it though Congress in only a few days.
The omnibus legislation will allow the 198,000 H-2B workers who are given visas in the prior three years to return for H-2B work in 2016 without being counted against the annual 66,000 cap. So the annual inflow can be four times the annual quota, or 264,000 workers — nearly all of whom would take jobs that would otherwise go to younger Americans or to new machinery.
That special provision is only for 2016, but Ryan’s omnibus also includes a permanent section allowing employers to dictate future wages for the foreign workers wages, regardless of local conditions and the wages needed by Americans to cover the costs of Americans’ cost-of-living, such as taxes, child-care, food and transport.
Ryan’s new wage-rule is extremely valuable because it allows the employers to offered wages at such low levels that most Americans can’t afford to work at the jobs. Once Americans can’t apply, then then employers can formally ask for the federal government to given them the H-2B visas, which are awarded only to employers who say they sought Americans for the jobs.
Also, once the wages of the lowest-level guest-workers are reduced, employers can reduce the wages paid to American supervisors and year-round workers, further cutting employers’ costs.
The pink-slip program is unlikely to ever import all potential 264,000 workers in one year, partly because some quit and some find better jobs, said Miano. A reasonable guess, he said, it that it will triple the annual inflow of foreign workers over several years. That’s roughly 200,000 jobs each year that would go to foreign visa-workers instead of blue-collar Americans.
But Ryan claims it will only add 8,000 foreign workers in 2016.
The claim of only 8,000 workers is based on a letter from the Congressional Budget Office, which said that “CBO estimates that in fiscal year 2016, section 565 will increase the number of workers in the United States in H-2B status by about 8,000.”
The CBO estimate reduces the expected inflow of foreign workers by assuming that many of the H-2B workers hired in 2013, 2014 and 2015 won’t take the opportunity to return, and that there’s not enough time between now and October 2016 to bring in all the extra possible workers. “For example, many amusement and recreation attendants are young adults who probably returned to their home country to begin or resume university education and are unlikely to return to the United States in 2016,” the CBO report claims.
The CBO letter was dated Dec. 22 — four days after Ryan pushed the $1.1 trillion omnibus through Congress with more Democratic votes than Republican votes.
For 2016, “I find it improbable that [the number] is only going to increase by 10,000,” said Krikorian. “If [the program] is that irrelevant, why is it in the bill?” he said, adding that many many lobbyists and multiple legislators pushed hard to get this unpopular measure into the omnibus.
“This is not just a mom and pop effort — there are [labor] brokers and immigration lawyers who are professionals at doing this kind of thing, and this provision in the omnibus bill is the starting gun for them to get more [H-2B] people” in 2016 and laters years, said Krikorian.
“The interests that have been doing this would not have done it for a measly 8,000” extra workers, he said.
In fact, the H-2B program grew by almost 50 percent when the prior-year exemption was temporarily legal from 2005 to 2007.
In the first year, 2005 companies brought 87,492 H-2B, plus 1,643 returning H-2Bs, according to a State Department annual report. In 2006, the companies brought in 71,687 new H-2Bs plus 50,854 returning H-2Bs. In 2007, the companies brought in 60,227 en H-2Bs plus 69,320 returning H-2Bs.
The process pumped the number of H-2Bs up from 90,000 in 2005 to 130,000 in 2007.
Ryan claims the program only covers a narrow range of range of work.
But the lobbyists who pushed for the bill include a wide range range of employers — roofing contractors, concrete pavers, builders, franchise-operators, racetrack operators landscapers, sugarcane growers, theme parks, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the immigration lawyers’ association.
Ryan also claims the narrow expansion to 8,000 workers is only for one year.
But that’s implausible, said Krikorian. “The idea that they would not renew it if they could renew it is absurd — of course they would,” he said. ”Why BS voters with such a lame claim?
Ryan also claims the H-2B expansion was fully debated and unanimously supported by GOP legislators.
However, the advocates and legislators backing the plan refused to speak to reporters about the issue in the weeks prior to the omnibus plan. Ryan’s aides also hid the measure deep in the 2,009-page omnibus report, released only a few days before the Dec. 18 vote, in a hard-to-find paragraph that did not contain the ‘H-2B’ term.
Ryan’s claim of a public debate over the H-2B program is deceptive, said Miano. “It was concealed from the voters —because they think we’re all stupid… [and] we’d have to be stupid to believe him,” he added.
Ryan’s pink-slip plan is overwhelmingly unpopular, according to prior polls. In fact, Donald Trump’s meteoric rise in the GOP race — and the consequent expulsion of establishment candidates favored by Ryan — is powered by deep opposition from GOP voters — and many swing-voters — to the high-immigration/low-wage policy long favored by establishment GOP leaders, including Ryan.
Ryan’s H-2B legislation is “either an intentional provocation — rubbing the noses of the Republican base in this pro-cheap labor policy], or more likely, these guys just have no idea how pissed off their own voters are,” said Krikorian.
“If he was paying attention to what is going on in the country, a rational response would have been to talk to his allies [and say] ‘We’re just going to have to pass on this this time, because it would inflame the yokels,” Krikorian said. “Even that kins of contemptuous, cynical perspective isn’t there.”
“I don’t think he gets it,”said Miano. “This is the corruption that people talk about in Washington…[and what Ryan] hopes is that everything will die down and a year later, and we’ll be thinking of something different.”
Ryan has said he supports large-scale immigration, and the “any willing worker” claim that U.S.-based executives should be allowed to offer any job to any foreign workers if Americans workers won’t take the job at an advertised wage. “We want to have a system where people can come here and work– go back and forth if they want to,” Ryan said in 2013.
In 2014, Ryan covertly built GOP support for an amnesty-and-cheap-labor bill.
In fact, Ryan endorses the H-2B worker program on his website. “Employers should be able to hire workers on a temporary or seasonal basis when they can’t find Americans to fill the jobs. Wisconsin, for instance, relies on seasonal labor for agriculture and other industries, but due to a lack of seasonal H-2B visas, some Wisconsin businesses face annual labor shortfalls. If we can link legal immigrants with small businesses, we can help spur economic growth,” he said on his page endorsing large-scale immigration.
In Oct. 2015, only 62.4 percent of adult Americans had jobs. That’s down from 66.9 percent in April 2001, and level with the June 1977 level.
So far, the initial reaction by GOP voters to Ryan’s statement was not promising.
“We aren’t fools – you can’t put lipstick on this pig,” commented ‘BlakeSDavis.’
“We know how badly you $crewed up, and the rank and file will never forgive you, no matter how many times you appear on MSNBC trying to tell us otherwise. We know that you and the rest of the Leadership have told us that we are not wanted in the Party and we will PUNISH you in 2016.”