Friday, January 27, 2012

If It's Broken, Expand It

The thermometer may be plunging, with rain, snow, or sleet the forecast in your area.      But it's always a good day to criticize Newt Gingrich's immigration plan.

Two of the litmus tests for a Republican is a demand that taxes be lowered for the wealthy and reasonable regulations on the business community be minimized.        Joining those non-negotiable items now is the determination to "control the border."        Though far more reasonable than the other GOP demands, no Republican has yet acknowledged that President Obama has been far more successful pursuing this goal than was either George W. Bush or Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6).          (Bush the Elder has become largely disowned by the party faithful.)       Part of Gingrich's immigration policy, at various times described as "compassionate" and "humane" is the idea Newt often repeats, as he did at last night's GOP presidential debate (transcript, here) in Florida:

You should have a guest worker program, probably run by American Express, Visa or MasterCard so they minimize fraud, which the federal government won’t do. And you should have much stronger employer penalties at that point because you can validate it.

The federal government's current temporary worker program consists of the H-2 visa, broken down into the H-2a visa (agricultural) and the H-2b (non-agricultural) visa.       Owing to the greater worker protections afforded under its terms, H-2b alone has grown in favor among employers.          

Mary Bauer and Sarah Reynolds of the Southern Poverty Law Center explained in March, 2007

In the process of attaining a H-2 guest worker visa, workers typically fall victim to bait-and-switch schemes that force them to borrow huge sums of money at high interest rates (often leveraging family homes) in order to land short-term, low-wage jobs that all too often end up shorter-term and lower-waged than promised. Under crushing debt, and legally bound to work only for the employer who filed petition for them, these workers often face the most dangerous and harsh of working conditions in places like shipyards, the forestry department, or construction, with no medical benefits for on-the-job injuries or access to legal services. Bosses often hold workers’ documents to make sure they don’t “jump jobs.”

There are two levels of the current guest worker program—H-2a for agricultural work, and H-2b for non-agricultural work. Though the H-2a program provides legal protections for foreign farm workers—such as a guarantee of at least three quarters of the total employment hours promised, free housing, transportation compensation, medical benefits, and legal representation—many of these protections exist only on paper. H-2b workers, on the other hand, have no rights or protections.
The exploitation of guest workers begins with the initial recruitment in their home country—a process that often leaves them in a precarious economic state and therefore extremely vulnerable to abuse by unscrupulous employers in this country. US employers almost universally rely on private agencies to find and recruit guest workers in their home countries.
These labor recruiters usually charge fees to the worker—sometimes many thousands of dollars to cover travel, visas, and other costs, including profit for the recruiters. The workers, most of whom live in poverty, frequently obtain high-interest loans to come up with the money to pay the fees. In addition, recruiters sometimes require them to leave collateral, such as the deed to their house or car, to ensure that they fulfill the terms of their individual labor contract.
The entirely unregulated recruiting business is quite lucrative. With more than 121,000 workers recruited in 2005 alone, tens of millions of dollars in recruiting fees are at stake. This financial bonanza provides a powerful incentive for recruiters and agencies to import as many workers as possible, with little or no regard to the impact on individual workers and their families.
Shorter explanation:   workers are exploited by unscrupulous employers and manipulative middle-men. Expansion of the guest worker concept is a truly terrible idea.      Its only saving grace is that it makes Newt Gingrich's harebrained scheme for "citizen" panels seem almost reasonable by comparison.     Barely.

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