One of the most interesting elements of the Senate's immigration reform debate is the contrast between the many who tell family stories as they urge passage of the legislation and the few who warn that the bill could have devastating consequences for young Americans. Vermont independent Bernie Sanders took to the floor again Tuesday. He defended the interests of young job-seeking Americans, saying they are being trampled in the rush to satiate employers' appetite for foreign workers.
There is another group of people, and those are young people whom we don't talk about enough. Not everybody in America is going to college. There are millions of young people who graduate high school and want to go out and start their careers and make some money and move up the ladder. There are others who have dropped out of high school. We cannot turn our backs on those young people. They need jobs as well. If young people — young high school graduates, for example — are unable to find entry-level jobs, how will they ever be able to develop the skills, the experience, and the confidence they need to break into the job market? And if they don't get those skills — if they don't get those jobs and that income — there is a very strong possibility they may end up in antisocial or self-destructive activities.
Right now, on street corners all over this country, there are kids who have nothing to do. And what are they doing when they stand on street corners? What they are doing is getting into drugs, they are getting into crime, they are getting into self-destructive activity. We already have too many young people in this country using drugs. We already have too many young people involved in criminal activity. As a nation, we have more people in jail than any other country on Earth, including China. Let's put our young people into jobs, not into jails. …
At a time when poverty in this country remains at an almost 50-year high, and when unemployment among young people is extremely high, I worry deeply that we are creating a permanent underclass — a large number of people who are poorly educated and who have limited or no job skills. This is an issue we must address and must address now. Either we make a serious effort to find jobs for our young people now or we are going to pay later in terms of increased crime and the cost of incarceration.
Now, why is this issue of youth unemployment relevant to the debate we are having on immigration reform? The answer is obvious to anyone who has read the bill. This immigration reform legislation increases youth unemployment by bringing into this country, through the J-1 program and the H-2B program, hundreds of thousands of low-skilled, entry-level workers who are taking the jobs young Americans need.
Sanders stepped up the attack he launched last week on the Summer Work Travel program, which brings foreign college students to the United States for seasonal jobs. While last week he said the program should be abolished, on Tuesday he said he was about to introduce legislation that would abolish the work component of the program, which issues J-1 visas ostensibly as part of a cultural exchange.
At a time when youth unemployment in this country is over 16 percent and the teen unemployment rate is over 25 percent, many of the jobs that used to be done by young Americans are now being performed by temporary guest workers.
Right now, what we are talking about is hundreds of thousands of foreign workers coming into this country not to do great scientific work, not as great entrepreneurs to start businesses, not as Ph.D. engineers, but as waiters and waitresses, kitchen help, lifeguards, front desk workers at hotels and resorts, ski instructors, cooks, chefs, chambermaids, landscapers, parking lot attendants, cashiers, security guards, and many other entry-level jobs. …
The J-1 program for foreign college students is supposed to be used as a cultural exchange program — a program to bring young people into this country to learn about our customs and to support international cooperation and understanding. That is why it is administered by the State Department. But instead of doing that, this J-1 program has morphed into a low-wage jobs program to allow corporations such as McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts, Disney World, Hershey's, and many other major resorts around the country to replace American workers with cheap labor from overseas. Each and every year companies from all over this country are hiring more than 100,000 foreign college students in low-wage jobs through the J-1 summer work travel program. Unlike other guest worker programs, the J-1 program does not even require businesses to recruit or advertise for American workers. What they can do is pay minimum wage. They don't have to advertise for American workers. And guess what. For the foreign worker, they do not have to pay Social Security tax, they don't have to pay Medicare tax, and they don't have to pay unemployment tax. So, essentially, we are creating a situation where it is absolutely advantageous for an employer to hire a foreign worker rather than an American worker.