For the millions of Americans who voted for President Donald Trump because of his support for immigration policies that put American workers first, recent testimony by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen can be summed up in just one word: betrayal.
For the second year in a row, Nielsen indicated that the Trump administration will likely expand the H-2B visa program, which brings low skilled foreign workers to the United States to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs. This unwarranted visa increase will subject the nation’s most vulnerable workers — those who have less than a high school diploma — to competition from low-skilled foreign workers for the shrinking number of low-skilled jobs. The negative impact of such an increase on an underclass already clawing for entry level jobs — hotel workers, housekeepers, construction workers, landscapers, and food processors — is indisputable and unjustifiable.
Even though the H-2B program is capped at 66,000 workers per fiscal year, the cheap labor lobby and lawmakers who do their bidding have repeatedly used unrelated spending measures to expand it. This year was no different, as last month’s $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill contained a provision that gave Nielsen the authority to more than double the number of H-2B visas issued this fiscal year.
The same provision was included in last year’s omnibus, which led to then-Secretary John Kelly approving the importation of 15,000 additional low skilled workers, caving to special interest demands and promising American workers it was a “one-time increase.” At the time, there were vast pools of unemployed, low skilled American workers; and Secretary Nielsen served as Kelly’s chief of staff.
While the administration has every right to crow about the impressive job growth that has taken place since the president took office, the situation that many American workers face remains quite bleak. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that over 50 percent of Americans of working age without a high school degree are not in the labor force. According to BLS statistics, the number of unemployed workers 25 and older, with a high school degree or less, totaled more than 2 million workers in 2017.
This means the employment prospects for those with no more than a high school diploma are still meager. Surely these Americans that are capable and willing to perform low-skilled work for fair wages and working conditions should be hired over cheap foreign labor.
Significant labor shortages in the largest H-2B occupations is cited as the main justification for increasing the H-2B cap. However, this claim rings hollow. According to BLS data, the unemployment rate for construction workers is 9.7 percent, 8.9 percent in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance, and 11.3 percent for farming, fishing, and forestry occupations — all much higher than the national unemployment rate, currently hovering around 4.1 percent.
A historical look of similar data by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) tells the same story: For the past decade, wages have been stagnant and unemployment rates have been sky high in H-2B occupations. In other words, this nation already has too many unskilled American workers and flooding the market with cheap, foreign labor will only further suppress the already low wages they earn.
The fact is this: Secretary Nielsen has no obligation to use the authority granted to her by Congress. Instead, she has a unique opportunity to send a clear message to special interests that “Buy American, Hire American” isn’t just a catchy phrase, and last year’s increase was truly a “one time” concession. Unfortunately, however, it looks like the administration would rather reward the business lobby’s intentional disregard of U.S. citizens to maximize profits.
Dave Ray is the communications directors for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.