House Speaker Paul Ryan is poised to break an explicit pledge not to touch immigration as speaker Friday, when he’s expected to allow a catch-all spending bill to the floor that includes a contentious expansion of the H-2b visa program.
Ryan made the pledge in October in a bid to reassure members of the House Freedom Caucus reluctant to back him for speaker, because of his past support for dramatically liberalized immigration laws. Republican Rep. Mo Brooks drew up a letter spelling out promises Ryan had made to the HFC behind closed doors, and delivered it to Ryan for confirmation, before entering it into the Congressional Record.
Ryan called Brooks’ office to confirm the two pledges specified in the letter: It is “unwise or unproductive” to bring any immigration bill to the floor while Obama is president, and as speaker he “will not allow” a floor vote on an immigration bill, unless it is “supported by a majority of a majority” of Republican House members.
Yet the must-pass spending bill Ryan’s expected to bring to the House floor for a vote Friday includes a provision that would dramatically expand the H-2b visa program, allowing businesses to import as many as four times the current number of low-skilled guest workers.
A representative for Ryan told The Daily Caller News Foundation the Judiciary Committee is responsible for the H-2b provision, and Ryan was “not involved.”
“He didn’t say the House would not touch programs related to immigration, simply that it wouldn’t pass major pieces of controversial language like comprehensive immigration reform,” the representative said, and later added: “The speaker is following through on his promise to allow the committees to take the lead in legislating.”
As Speaker of the House, Ryan controls what does and does not come to the floor, and as noted he pledged specifically not to bring “any” immigration bill to the floor, not just “major pieces” or comprehensive bills.
In terms of the Ryan’s broken pledge and the upcoming spending vote, a representative for the Judiciary Committee simply told TheDCNF the provision will “protect American jobs.”
Rep. Brooks told TheDCNF he opposes the H-2b expansion measure, but does not consider it a violation of Ryan’s pledge. “I do not consider it to be a violation because it does not deal with permanent immigrants,” he said. “And Ryan’s pledge is limited to permanent immigrants.”
The pledge explicitly says “any legislation,” and it never uses the phrase “permanent immigrants.”
Businesses use the H-2B visa program to hire low-skilled foreign workers for temporary non-farm jobs in restaurants, hotels, resorts, even trucking companies. The measure inserted into the spending bill would exempt visas issued in 2013, 2014, or 2015 from counting against the annual cap of 66,000 visas, effectively allowing up to about 200,000 additional foreign workers into the U.S. job market.
These foreigners work in occupations including cooking, hospitality, construction and maintenance for as little as three months and many as three years on the visa. An Economics Policy Institute analysis of federal data in March found there are many more unemployed workers than job openings in many of these industries. In construction, for example, EPI found there are six unemployed workers for each job opening.
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