This weekend, President Trump, frustrated with her ineffectiveness, asked for and received the resignation of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Just days earlier, the DHS secretary said in a nationally televised interview that issuing presidential executive orders to mandate E-Verify, to end birthright citizenship and to send U.S. troops to secure the border against the unprecedented migrant flow are options that are “on the table.” E-Verify would protect American jobs, while birthright citizenship and open borders are immigration pull factors that lead to population growth and soaring entitlement costs, straining the education and health care systems.
“On the table” is a phrase Nielsen used to comfort Americans dismayed at decades of inaction on E-Verify, birthright citizenship and secure borders. American discontent is doubled since President Trump has the authority to sign executive orders on immigration matters. Citizens dismay is tripled when the foot-dragging of President Trump and Secretary Nielsen is compared to the lightning speed with which DHS approved 30,000 more H-2B employment-based, nonagricultural seasonal workers that raises the annual H-2B total from 66,000 to 96,000.
Last year, then-Secretary Nielsen approved a 15,000 H-2B visa increase. In all, more than 750,000 annual guest workers arrive in the U.S. Once employers cry “labor shortage,” instant action on visa increases is all but assured. But decades of pleading for U.S. worker protections consistently falls on the deaf ears of leadership. And as for President Trump’s pledge to put U.S. workers first, that’s becoming a faint echo.
Seasonal workers that the H-2B provides are often in labor categories that Americans have typically filled, assuming fair wage and working conditions. Landscaping, amusement parks, lifeguarding, hotels, and resorts are good summer jobs for teenagers or college students looking to save money for their educations or for heads of families hoping to get extra income to pay bills. But 30,000 more H-2B visas threaten gains that summer workers made last year. In 2018, “The State of the Hourly Worker” report found that nearly half of employers, 46 percent, raised wages to compete for talent, and 95 percent added extra shifts to their seasonal job openings. Tight labor markets benefit American workers.
Like most guest worker programs, the H-2B has a long history of fraud, abuse, and discrimination against U.S. workers. In 2017, the Department of Justice ordered Barrios Street Realty of Lockport, Louisiana, to provide the final payment in a $108,000 settlement to a group of American workers who were discriminated against in favor of H-2B workers. According to the March 2016 DOJ press release, the firm knowingly and illegally hired temporary foreign workers despite there being 73 qualified Americans willing to take the jobs.
In a 2016 op-ed, The New York Times responded to the question asking why Congress would increase the H-2B visa totals. The answer the Times provided in 2016 is the same as it is today: “Businesses that profit from cheap and subservient labor are demanding that it do so. Employers are supposed to recruit American workers before they hire H-2B workers. They are also supposed to pay guest workers the prevailing wage Americans would earn. Legal loopholes and lax enforcement have allowed them to sidestep those rules.”
Research shows that temporary foreign workers threaten the jobs of America’s low skilled workers and remove opportunities for some of the most vulnerable residents including the under-educated, minorities and newly arrived legal immigrants. In the Barrios Street Realty case and hundreds of other similar scenarios, Americans were not given the opportunity to fill temporary jobs because of the illegal actions of a company determined to hire foreign temporary workers.
The H-2B visa, officially temporary and nonimmigrant, was created as part of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. It represents more than 30 years of putting prospective American workers at a disadvantage in seeking work. Now that Nielsen is out of office, her successor’s goal should be to get E-Verify and the other pro-American provisions off the table and onto President Trump’s desk for signature.