What Does Granting Amnesty Have to Do With Funding Our Troops in Iraq?

Ira Mehlman

5/16/2008 8:49:12 PM - Ira Mehlman

There is an unwritten rule in Congress that the appropriations process should not be used to pass major legislation. So when the Senate Appropriations Committee makes an exception to this rule, you can bet that they are doing so only to deal with some burning crisis.

For the Senate Appropriations Committee to break with tradition, the interests at stake must be so compelling that circumstances demand that the cumbersome legislative process be bypassed and that the issue be dealt with immediately. And when the legislation gets tacked on to not just any old appropriations bill, but an emergency supplemental appropriations bill to fund our servicemen and women fighting in Iraq, one can assume that the most vital national interests hang in the balance.

What were the compelling interests that led the august Senate Appropriations Committee to include major legislation as part of the military spending bill on Thursday? Amnesty for illegal aliens, and lots of new foreign workers for powerful business interests.

In one afternoon, the Appropriations Committee approved amnesty for 1.35 million illegal alien agricultural workers, and made available an additional 650,000 skilled and unskilled foreign guest workers over the next three years. That’s 2 million new, or newly legalized, foreign workers entering our labor force over the next three years – even as our economy has been losing jobs.

The 2 million figure does not include the dependents of the amnesty recipients or new workers who could be admitted under existing agricultural guest worker programs. Under the agricultural amnesty – written by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) at the behest of the California agricultural lobby – the spouses of amnesty recipients will also be authorized to compete with American workers for jobs in any sector of our labor market. Nor does it include the potentially unlimited number of new guest workers agricultural employers will be able to import under a “streamlined” H-2A program that requires the Department of Labor to issue visas within seven days of an employer’s request.

Just to be extra sure that the agriculture industry will get their workers as cheaply as possible, Sen. Feinstein threw in a provision that freezes wages for these farm workers at 2007 levels.

While the Feinstein amendment offers senators a fig leaf to avoid the dreaded “A-Word” (that’s A-M-N-E-S-T-Y) by legalizing these workers for only five years, the sunset provision is sheer kabuki theater. Everyone knows that once we start down that road there is no turning back. At some point in the next five years, the “temporary” amnesty will be made a permanent one and will likely include many other categories of illegal aliens – just to be fair to everyone who broke our laws.

California agriculture is not the only business interest powerful enough to hitch a ride on the backs of our military personnel. The Maryland fishing and tourism industries also want a ready supply of cheap foreign labor, and Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) was happy to accommodate by offering an amendment that exempts returning unskilled or low-skilled H-2B workers from counting against the caps for that category. (Never mind that there are fewer Maryland crabs to harvest each year, and that with the skyrocketing price of gas people may not be able to afford to drive to the Eastern Shore.) Over the next three years, the cumulative number of H-2B workers admitted could reach 432,000.

And while the Appropriations Committee was piling on goodies for the low-skill industries, they found time to take care of the lobbyists for the high tech industry as well. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Microsoft/Wash.) added a provision to “recapture” 218,000 visas for skilled foreign workers. These visas didn’t really “escape,” so much as they just went unutilized between 1996 and 2004, especially during the years immediately after the high tech bubble burst. But now high tech employers and labor contractors want those visas back, because foreign guest workers tamp down labor costs for the industry.

Americans, no matter what they might think of the war in Iraq, genuinely support our men and women who are over there serving our nation. It seems that the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee love our troops too – but for entirely different reasons: they provide convenient cover for passing special interest legislation to benefit illegal aliens and powerful business lobbies.