Senators’ immigration votes may be shaped by state economies

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Supporters of the Senate’s pending immigration bill are pushing back against a new report that says the legislation will double the annual inflow of university-trained guest workers into the United States.

The Center for Immigration Studies “is taking a really complicated issue, and muddying it to do this scare tactic,” said Philip Wolgin, an immigration policy analyst at the Center for American Progress, which supports the Senate bill. “The estimate doesn’t event come close” to reality, he said.

The Senate begins debate on the immigration bill this week, and the guest worker issue is important because swing-voting senators are under pressure from companies to boost the current inflow of university-trained and unskilled guest workers.

But they’re also under voter pressure. Polls show many Republican and swing-voters are worried about immigration’s impact on jobs, even though many Americans underestimate the current inflow. Some left-wing groups are also pushing back against the bill because of worries about jobs.

Democratic leader Sen. Chuck Schumer “has had to build a house of cards to get the votes [for the bill], and if the guest worker provision makes some cards fall, the whole thing will come down,” said Jessica Vaughan, research chief for the Center for Immigration Studies.

The issue is “sensitive,” said Wolgin.

Vaughan’s CIS released a report June 5 showing that the bill would double the annual inflow of non-agricultural guest workers to roughly 1.1 million. The inflow is large enough to create a pool of more than 2.5 million university-level guest workers in the United States.

American universities produce about 800,000 highly-skilled graduates each year.

According to the report, the bill would also provide green cards to at least one hundred thousand foreign-born graduates each year, and bring in or legalize roughly 30 million immigrants in the next decade, or 250,000 people per month.

In May, the nation’s economy produced 175,000 new jobs, while the working-age American population grew by roughly 90,000.

The senators facing the cross-cutting pressures include Republican Senators Mark Kirk from Illinois and Rob Portman from Ohio, Vaughan said. The Democrats under pressure include Kay Hagan from North Carolina, Joe Donnelly from Indiana and Mark Pryor from Louisiana.

The economic impact on their home-state voters could help persuade Democratic Senators to vote against the measure, despite intense pressure from Schumer and other Democrats, Vaughan said. The impact “definitely could serve as cover” for a no vote, she said.

Over the last several years, employers in those senators’ states have won federal permission to bring in many thousands of university-level guest-workers.

Indiana employers got approval to bring in 8,912 workers from 2010 to 2012, while Ohio employers were OK’d to bring in 18,871 graduate-level workers. Illinois employers won permission to bring in 40,884 workers and Minnesota employers were approved to import 11,430 university-trained workers during the same period, according to data provided by MyVisaJobs.com.

North Carolina employers asked for 18,002 foreign graduates, and Louisiana employers were allowed to bring in 7,195 foreign grads.

Wolgin disputed Vaughan’s prediction that the inflow would double if the bill passes. In practice, some of the guest workers would enter the country illegally if the bill doesn’t pass, and employer demand for guest workers can’t be reliably predicted, he said.

“I don’t know what [demand] will look like going forward,” he told The Daily Caller.

Wolgin also disputed predictions that the extra supply of workers would reduce demand and wages for Americans. “I don’t know enough about it … but I know there’s been a critique of that model,” he said.

“I’m not seeing compelling evidence out there that [imported] high-skill workers hurts the employment prospects of Americans,” he said.

The issue was spotlighted last month, when the Senate’s judiciary committee debated how American workers should be protected from the increased flow of guest-workers allowed by the bill.

Democratic Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse passed an amendment that would allow mid-level executives to complain when their jobs are outsourced to guest-workers.

In local meet-and-greets with constituents, Whitehouse said, he’s met “fairly senior middle management people who get let go and then get replaced by folks who are from overseas, who are living in hotels, and who are brought into the office in buses.”

“They need a place to complain so we have a way to go after that kind of misbehavior,” he told The Daily Caller after the May 14 markup session.

Whitehouse declined to explain why he described the legal use of guest-workers to replace Americans as “misbehavior.”

In 2012, companies in Rhode Island won federal permission to bring in 1,126 skilled guest-workers.

“If Whitehouse is not an amnesty diehard and begins to feel this problem for him at home, we might be able to pick him off,” Vaughan said.

“I don’t know about his district, but we need to think globally about what’s going on,” countered Wolgin.

“There’s no reason to think that [an inflow of graduate-level workers] will hurt American workers. … this will only help us and be a benefit to the United States,” Wolgin said.

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