Editor’s Note: Tomorrow, mandatory E-Verify will be marked up in the House Judiciary Committee, starting at 11:15 AM EST. We’ll be live-tweeting, so be sure to follow us on twitter @americasvoice for some real-time updates and your daily dose of snark.
Rep. Lamar Smith, the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is also the self-appointed jobs czar for the GOP. He’s holding a mark-up of his two-part jobs package this Thursday, September 15th. Yesterday we explained why Smith’s mandatory E-Verify bill kills jobs for Americans and is opposed by organized labor. Today, we explain why his companion bill — the “American Specialty Agriculture Act” (H.R.2847)— also puts American workers last. That’s some “jobs” plan.
Smith’s latest bill creates a new program to bring in hundreds of thousands of guest workers to work in agriculture every year. All summer, agribusiness leaders have been sounding the alarm bell about what mandatory E-Verify would do to their industry. After that state’s legislature passed an E-Verify mandate, Georgia experienced a crisis in the fields: workers scared to come to work, crops rotting in the fields, and growers struggling to stay alive. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11,000 farm jobs went unfilled this summer in Georgia because of mandatory E-Verify.
But instead of backing off, Smith is charging forward with his mandatory E-Verify bill and adding a cheap guest worker plan to the mix in a blatant attempt to buy off the industry.
Smith wants to replace seasoned, experienced farm hands with a new class of 500,000 vulnerable foreign workers beholden to their employers. The workers can only stay for ten months. Then, all 500,000 will be shipped back to their home countries and replaced by a new crew.
Instead of putting American workers first, Smith’s guest worker plan promotes a race to the bottom for the industry and jeopardizes the jobs of hundreds of thousands of Americans working in and around agriculture today. History has shown us that employers would rather hire guest workers willing to accept sub-par wages and working conditions over legal workers and citizens more likely to assert their labor rights.
Even the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page questioned his move, albeit for different reasons:
It’s good to see Republicans conceding the economic benefits of immigration, but we might already have an expanded guest-worker program if Mr. Smith hadn’t worked so hard to kill it. “I think it’s a bad idea,” he said when Congress last considered the idea. In a 2005 letter to the Journal, he argued that “cheap foreign labor displaces American workers” and “will not solve the illegal immigration problem. He even added that it might represent “an open invitation to potential terrorists” who could “use the program as cover.” Apparently the terrorist threat from fruit pickers has receded in the last six years.
It’s hard to outdo Lamar Smith’s hypocrisy here. Smith used to say guest worker programs are about importing ‘cheap labor’ and an invitation to ‘potential terrorists.’ But now, with the agriculture industry opposed to his E-Verify plan, he’s singing a much different tune. I’m all for politicians evolving on the issue of immigration, when they evolve toward a more enlightened, practical approach. If Smith really cared about the agriculture industry, he would throw his support behind the common sense labor-management compromise bill known as AgJOBS. Instead, he’s pushing an E-Verify plan that is a self-inflicted wound on American agriculture, then putting a guest worker ‘band-aid’ on top of it. That’s legislative malpractice.
Let’s be honest. Rep. Smith doesn’t really care about American workers. He cares about removing 11 million undocumented immigrants from the country by any means possible. And, if that means job losses for Americans, expanded bureaucracy, reduced labor standards, and economic ruin for agriculture, so be it. The question this week on Capitol Hill is whether anyone can – or will – stop him.