In recent weeks, there has been notable GOP floundering on the issue of creating a road map to citizenship as part of an overall immigration policy bill. From Rand Paul and Jeb Bush, who both struck a vague position on the issue, to those like Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho), who has previously come out in support of a legalization program without a citizenship option, Republicans are struggling to find a coherent position on their level of support for citizenship for 11 million new American immigrants.
While the AFL-CIO continues to roll out its campaign for citizenship and fair, comprehensive immigration reform for aspiring Americans, lawmakers in Congress are considering a number of potential options for an immigration bill. It is no secret that the union movement and the business community have been discussing the “future flow” of lesser-skilled workers. There is consensus that, like the rest of America’s immigration system, the mechanisms for evaluating our labor market needs and admitting foreign workers (as well as recruiting U.S. workers) for temporary and permanent jobs are broken, or non-existent.
Temporary worker programs in the United States are often presented as a “win-win” process, by which employers and foreign workers come together to both fill industry shortages and meet the needs of immigrant workers on a seasonal basis. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people are recruited from abroad to work on a vast array of temporary visas, in a wide range of industries, from low-wage jobs in agriculture and landscaping, to higher-wage jobs in technology, nursing and teaching. Yet, few discuss how these workers come to the United States and under what terms. Regardless of their visa, internationally recruited workers face disturbingly common patterns of abuse, including fraud, discrimination, economic coercion, blacklisting and, in some cases, forced labor, debt bondage and human trafficking.
This week’s news cycle has been packed with immigration-related stories. Immigration policy reform is finally moving in Congress, and creating a road map to citizenship for 11 million immigrants living in the United States is becoming a top priority for lawmakers. In the political negotiations, some lawmakers also have demanded enhanced border controls and other enforcement measures.
Immigration reform is rapidly becoming a legislative priority in 2013 and policymakers have been outlining the components of a comprehensive package, including the expansion of employment-related visas like the H-2 temporary work visa programs. More than 100,000 workers are recruited from abroad for employment in the United States each year under the H-2 programs, to work in such industries as agriculture, landscaping, forestry and hospitality. Today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the Centro de Los Derechos del Migrante (CDM, Center for Migrant Rights) released a new report, “Recruitment Revealed: Fundamental Flaws in the H-2 Temporary Worker Program and Recommendations for Change,” which exposes substantial defects in the program’s recruitment systems and proposes policy changes that would prevent future exploitation and abuse. The report is the result of an intensive, multisource investigative study that involved more than 220 interviews with recruited workers.
The H-2B guest worker visa program is plagued by fraud and abuse. Designed to allow employers to hire temporary guest workers for nonagricultural labor, the H-2B program lacks provisions, which would protect workers from wage theft, forced labor, predatory recruitment fees and other forms of exploitation. Guest workers in the United States are legally tied to their employer and are often forced to assume crippling debts for the opportunity to pursue low-wage work.