Possible Low-Skilled Immigrant Worker Program Awaits Senate Agreement

Extra! Extra! Big business, unions and the Senate reach an accord on immigrant labor!!!

Yes, the Chamber, the unions and Uncle Sam have all agreed on a “fair and equitable” program for importing “low-skilled” workers into the United States, paying them a fair, even “prevailing” wage and offering them a path to citizenship. A few Senators must sign onto the deal but it seems a “fait accompli” if you believe the Associated Press story.

Come the week of April 8, we’ll know the full details of the enabling legislation. Among details already revealed are a 13-year pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already calling the U.S. home (about a third longer than the existing model for all other aspirants).

A new “W” visa program will bring 20,000 workers into our country in year one, escalating in increments to 75,000 by year four. The program is allegedly needed in a country with an unemployment rate hovering around 7.7%. It also allows for “W” visa recipients to work year-round (apparently by job-hopping) as opposed to the current seasonal and temporary restrictions. There will eventually be a cap of 200,000 “W” visa workers. The current cap for temporary visas for low-wage non-agricultural workers is 66,000. Employers can exceed the caps by showing a need and, according to the AP account, paying “premium” wages. ROTFLMAO! Speaking of wages, the legislation will peg those at either the same wage paid the average American worker in the industry or a prevailing wage level, whichever is HIGHER! Again, ROTFLMAO!!!

That whole “W” thing has got to thrill American construction industry workers. Most of them have spent weeks to months of each year sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring. The final bill will cap “W” construction jobs at 15,000. So only 15,000 construction workers will lose their jobs (not to mention jobs already lost to the hordes of undocumented workers already filling construction openings in the U.S.).

Other favored industries include landscapers, retail workers, housekeepers, restaurants, hotels, resorts and nursing homes. Nursing homes? Please pardon this insensitive moment, but if I’m an elderly CHF resident of some senior facility and my heart’s pounding like an a-fib jackhammer, I’m hoping there are certain language requirements so when I tell a housekeeping staff member that “my heart’s pounding like an a-fib jackhammer, please get me help”, said staffer will be fully aware of what I’ve just said.

And for the more naïve of our numbers, most of the aforementioned industries are already packed to the rafters with undocumented workers. Let us continue. And why are agricultural workers not part of the mix? Easy answer: Mess with the farmer’s estimated 1 million undocumented workers who toil for little pay and no benefits, and you lose every election from here to the next millennium.

It is a fact (take it from an old farm boy) that it’s tough to get American workers to toil for next to nothing picking, transporting, harvesting, stoop labor and occasionally losing a hand in the bargain or, God forbid, a “walking down the corn” grain elevator demise. Besides, the happy social accident of American worker practicality and yes, sometimes indolence, profits many of our farm friends thousands upon thousands of dollars every season.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this story. The AP account suggests that the low-skilled worker program would “remove the biggest hurdle to completion of sweeping immigration legislation allowing 11 million illegal immigrants eventual U.S. citizenship.” The upcoming legislation does supposedly create a pathway to citizenship for those 11 million already in residence, but that would seem separate from the rest of the agreement.

Later in the same article, AP writes of workers who would be “brought in.” A CNN story uses the phrase “workers that would be allowed into the country each year.” If we’re talking only of workers from outside the U.S. being covered by this program, does that leave out the undocumented 11 million residents? I’m not clear on this point.

I am clear on what’s likely to happen with the pending legislation. Enforcement will be a joke. Especially for employers. Those who hire illegal workers are sent to jail about as often as a Haley’s comet appearance. They might be hauled before the courts and fined a few bucks, but most states give them 2 or 3 mulligans before even that becomes a factor.

And, remember sequestration? Non-defense discretionary programs are hugely impacted. The agency in charge of enforcing immigration policies is Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Their parent agency is Homeland Security. Both are losing money and most likely personnel. And you think they have enough investigators to check the status and wages of tens of thousands of new workers, not to mention the cheating massive cheating in hiring practices listed earlier in this submission?

There’s no incentive for companies to stop doing what they’re doing. The ‘business as usual’ practices of both agricultural and non-agricultural companies will continue unabated; hiring cheapo illegal labor and hiding that fact from the government. I doubt there’s one visitor reading this piece who can’t readily identify a company that clearly utilizes undocumented workers in your town or county. And that’s not changing anytime soon. As for the purported “path to citizenship” that may not take precedent over “permanent residency.” The latter can’t vote!

And we haven’t even talked about the right-wing House of Representatives take on this new development. Forcing their corporate pals to pay prevailing wage? Right!

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