Bernie Sanders and Immigration Reform

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on March 31, 2011

It seems to me that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders contradicted himself on immigration reform during his appearance on today's Diane Rehm Show.

"I support immigration reform," said Sanders during the public radio program. "I think we need comprehensive immigration reform."

But Sanders added a caveat, saying, "I don't want to see companies utilizing guest worker programs to lower wages for American workers."

The apparent contradiction is that a guest worker program for American business is a major part of "comprehensive immigration reform" as that term has long been understood. It would ensure that American businesses, always hungry for low-wage labor, will have access to hundreds of thousands of guest workers every year.

Sanders voted against comprehensive immigration reform legislation in 2007 precisely because he rejected the guest worker program. He was not opposed to legalization of illegal immigrants, the centerpiece of the legislation. But he complained that the Senate debate "has centered on illegal immigration and has downplayed the very consequential provisions in this bill dealing with guest workers."

In a passionate statement on the Senate floor on May 22, 2007, Sanders noted that while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce supported the proposed guest worker program, it opposed raising the minimum wage for U.S. workers.

Said Sanders, "What this legislation is not about is addressing the real needs of American workers. … What it is about is bringing into this country over a period of years millions of low-wage temporary workers, with the result that wages and benefits in this country, which are already going down, will go down even further."

Later in the speech, Sanders noted that American business wanted to bring in foreign workers even as it was outsourcing jobs to foreign countries. "In other words, if these large corporations are not shutting down plants in the United States, throwing American workers out on the streets, moving to China where they pay people 50 cents an hour, what they are doing is developing and pushing legislation which displaces American workers and lowers wages in this country by bringing low-wage workers from abroad into America."