Grassley Raises H-1B and L-1 Issues at Senate Committee Hearing

By David North on April 28, 2010

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) raised the issue of abuses in the H-1B and L-1 nonimmigrant worker programs at yesterday's hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Grassley thanked the witness at the hearing, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, for taking steps to tighten the rules of the H-1B program, as they related to intermediate employers called "job shops" and urged her to pay attention to a DHS Inspector General's report of abuses within the L-1 program.

The very controversial H-1B program allows U.S. employers to employ high-tech foreign workers on a temporary basis, in a somewhat regulated environment; the L-1 program, which has practically no protections for U.S. workers, according to Grassley, permits international employers to transfer their already employed managerial and professional workers from outside the nation to jobs inside the U.S.

"One of the L-1 workers had two helpers and ran a pizza store," Grassley said, quoting from the Inspector General's report. The L-1 program rarely gets much congressional attention, even though there were more than 380,000 L-1 admissions recorded in FY 2008.

Grassley read his questions, hurriedly, to the secretary who noted that the IG's report had been written in 2006 and saying that program corrections had been made by the department since.

Her level of response to Grassley was rather muted on this issue compared to the vigorous dialogue she had with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) a few minutes later.

Graham, one of the last of the senators to have a chance to question the secretary, used his few minutes to press her on the administration's legislative tactics. As reported in yesterday's New York Times, Graham had, almost alone among Senate Republicans, been working with Senate Democrats to craft a bi-partisan bill on global warming, and had thought that it was the next major piece of legislation on the senate's calendar.

Graham felt betrayed when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) decided to put the immigration bill ahead of the climate bill on the calendar; Graham felt that while he wanted both immigration reform and the climate bill, he sensed that the climate bill had a good chance of passage, while no immigration bill could possibly pass. (Reid, who faces a tough reelection battle in Nevada where there are many Latino residents, is said to have made the switch for back-home electoral reasons. The Washington Post reports today that Reid may have switched yet again, moving the climate bill up on the calendar.)

The South Carolina Senator, in a quickfire set of questions, had the secretary agreeing with him that "you can't jail 12 million people" and "you can't deport 12 million people," but she stoutly resisted his efforts to get her to agree with him that the proposed immigration bill could not possibly pass the Congress.

Graham's basic point, shared by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), was that there was a strong need to get the U.S. border under control before there could be any chance for "comprehensive immigration reform."

At one point Graham asked the secretary if she could name the 60 senators needed to pass an immigration bill, and she did not provide an answer (something she did frequently).

Regarding the recently signed Arizona anti-illegal legislation, of which the secretary had been critical, Graham said that "this is the kind of thing that good people do when they feel under siege."

The secretary had earlier in the hearing refused to answer a question from Senator Hatch (R-UT) if she thought it was constitutional.

Several senators, including Kyl, pressed the secretary on why the administration had not done anything to expand "Operation Streamline." This is a several-year-old Border Patrol initiative causing all apprehended illegal aliens in certain areas of the border to be tried for the crime of illegal entry and jailed for a while before deportation. Kyle said that its use in the Yuma Sector had decreased apprehensions in that area to a very small number, while the adjacent Tucson Sector (of the Border Patrol), which did not use the program, accounted for about half the nation's arrests of illegal aliens.

She tried to argue that it was a resource issue, and that the Department of Justice and the federal judiciary did not have enough people to handle their parts of the program. She said that Operation Streamline was part of a "tool kit" of border management techniques, a characterization that seemed not to appeal to either Kyl or Sessions.

Various speakers touched on the idea of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, but no one dwelled on it. Many spoke of the violence along the southern border, the influx of illegal aliens, and the need for stronger enforcement, but Grassley was alone in his spoken interest in nonimmigrant worker programs. The secretary provided lots of statistics to indicate that, at least at the southern border, the level of law enforcement resources there were at record highs.

While much of the two-hour-plus hearing dealt with substantive immigration issues, at least one quarter of the time was spent in parochial questions of narrow interest; a reminder of the saying that "all politics is local."

The avuncular chair of the committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), opened the questioning by expressing a concern about how heightened migration concerns had disrupted small-town patterns in towns along his state's border with Canada. He noted that his own home was within a 45-minute drive of Canada.

He expressed worry about the increased DHS activity at one such crossing, Morses Line, and got into a detailed dialogue with the secretary about how much land would need to be obtained (presumably through a eminent domain action) from the "Rainbow Farm" at that location. The secretary, who was apparently well-briefed on the matter, said that maybe they could get along with 1.5 acres instead of the original DHS desire for 5 acres. All this related to a program to enhance the port-of-entry at Morses Line.

Similarly, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), after expressing some more general concerns, pressed the secretary on a five-year-long effort of the University of California at Berkeley to get a grant to help protect the campus for forest fires; Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) pushed another Homeland Security grant with the secretary, complaining that some DHS position forced the City of New York to have a police officer on the Brooklyn Bridge at all times; and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) thanked the secretary for her quick visit to flooded areas in his state and then raised a flood-related, FEMA-based housing inspection question with her.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), moving a little closer to immigration enforcement, had kind remarks about the utility of dogs in law enforcement, adding "I love dogs." The secretary agreed that she loved dogs, too, and the chair said "we all love dogs." The secretary said that they were adding trained dogs to several different law enforcement operations "as fast as we can."

I did not know until then that DHS had trained some of its dogs to sniff out wads of American paper money, a talent more useful in drug enforcement, presumably, than in immigration enforcement.