Immigration and the GOP Debate: Foreign Worker Visas

By Mark Krikorian on March 11, 2016

I was delighted to see Stephen Dinan of the Washington Times in one of the moderators’ chairs last night. He asked about immigration right at the beginning of the night, with questions on both foreign worker visas and immigration levels overall. Here’s what was said about the first topic.

Trump clearly learned from the backlash to his waffling on foreign workers at last week’s debate. Even before Dinan took the mic, the first question presented to him last night was from CNN’s Jake Tapper:

TAPPER: Mr. Trump, your critics say your campaign platform is inconsistent with how you run your businesses, noting that you’ve brought in foreign workers instead of hiring Americans, and your companies manufacture clothing in China and Mexico. Why should voters trust that you will run the country differently from how you run your businesses?

Trump’s answer showed he understood his problem:

TRUMP: Because nobody knows the system better than me. I know the H1B. I know the H2B. Nobody knows it better than me. I’m a businessman. These are laws. These are regulations. These are rules. We’re allowed to do it. … So I will take advantage of it; they’re the laws. But I’m the one that knows how to change it. Nobody else on this dais knows how to change it like I do, believe me.

Trump doesn’t “know the H-1b” any better than I know macramé, but he was formulating the answer he should have given on the foreign-worker visa issue all along, which he articulated better in his next turn, in response to a question from Dinan:

TRUMP: I will. First of all, I think and I know the H1B very well. And it’s something that I frankly use and I shouldn’t be allowed to use it. We shouldn’t have it. Very, very bad for workers. And second of all, I think it’s very important to say, well, I’m a businessman and I have to do what I have to do.

When it’s sitting there waiting for you, but it’s very bad. It’s very bad for business in terms of — and it’s very bad for our workers and it’s unfair for our workers. And we should end it. Very importantly, the Disney workers endorsed me, as you probably read.

I can’t say I trust him, but this is the answer any reformer needs to give when accused of hypocrisy, whether a politician on term limits and campaign finance restrictions or a businessman on indentured-worker visas: I need to operate in the system as it exists, but will work to change it once I’m in a position to do so.

Rubio may be an also-ran at this point, but his response to Dinan’s question about Disney’s replacement of American workers via the H-1b program is important to note in case he runs for office again in the future. That’s because his answer was false – knowingly false.

Rubio said, straight out, “it is illegal now under that program to use it to replace American workers.” No, it isn’t, and he knows that perfectly well. Disney isn’t the only firm that’s used the visa this way; others include Fossil, Toys R Us, New York Life, Northeast Utilities, Southern California Edison, and others. In fact, 10 senators addressed a letter to the Departments of Justice, Labor, and Homeland Security demanding an investigation into Southern California Edison’s case (Rubio was not among them; I guess he hadn’t come to work that day). The Justice Department concluded its investigation “with no adverse findings against the company,” in the words of SCE’s president.

That’s because the H-1b program is designed to permit employers to hire cheaper foreign labor, whether replacing their existing American workers or skipping that step entirely and hiring foreigners from the get-go. And Rubio’s diversionary attempt to place the blame on “consulting businesses” – what are called “body shops” in the business, that bring in people on H-1b visas and them farm them out to employers – is also false. H-1b workers are cheap labor harming Americans whether they’re employed by a “body shop” or directly by a large corporation.

Rubio has refused to co-sponsor any of the H-1b reform bills authored by Grassley, Sessions, and others, preferring to write his own bill to address what he sees as the problems with the program. Called the I-Squared Act, the fact that Michelle Malkin calls it Rubio’s “ second-worst immigration bill” should give a hint about its contents. Despite his forceful expression of outrage last night, the “problem” Rubio seeks to address in his bill is that there aren’t enough H-1B visas; it would quadruple the number, among other things. Rubio’s bill does nothing to prevent the replacement or displacement of American workers; in the words of Norman Matloff, UC David computer science professor, Rubio’s bill “contains no protections for U.S. workers whatsoever, not even the pretense of protection as some bills include.” Don’t take Matloff’s word for it, just look at who endorses Rubio’s H-1b bill: the Partnership for a New American Economy, whose co-chairman is Bob Iger, CEO of — wait for it — Disney.

The contrast between Trump’s and Rubio’s answers on the foreign-worker issue are telling. Trump gave a vague answer promising to fix things; Rubio gave a more substantive answer that was knowingly false. Which is worse?

Topics: Politics