Ira Mehlman

Congress adjourned for a month-long recess on Aug. 1, the same day that the Bureau of Labor Statistics released distressing news about unemployment. The July economic news was not good. The official unemployment rate hit a four-year high of 5.7 percent, as the economy shed 51,000 jobs last month, bringing the total of lost jobs for 2008 to 463,000.

Seemingly oblivious to what is happening back in their states and districts, the House Immigration Subcommittee finished up business for the rest of the summer by approving legislation that, if enacted, would “recapture” some 557,000 visas that were not used during the years they were made available, going back as far as 1992. The bill, H.R. 5882, was introduced by Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.).

More than half of these wily visas-that-got-away would be employment-based, while the rest would be recaptured for family-based immigrants. Since immigrants who are admitted under family preference categories are also likely to need a way to support themselves, most of them would also likely enter a tightening labor market.

Aside from the fact that our slumping labor market does not require lots of new workers right now, Rep. Lofgren’s bill treats the issuance of green cards as an entitlement, rather than a privilege. Current laws set a ceiling the number of visas that can be issued in a given year; Rep. Lofgren’s bill would turn a ceiling into a floor and allow immigrants to claim those green cards years later.

While the House is acting to recapture visas in a free-standing bill, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is spearheading the Senate effort to corral those elusive little devils. Rather than recovering visas from the 1990s in a stand-alone bill like the House, Sen. Menendez is attempting to amend legislation to reauthorize E-Verify, a successful program that allows employers to access the Social Security Administration’s database to screen out illegal aliens. Reauthorization has already been approved by the House by a vote of 407-2, but is being blocked in the Senate by Mr. Menendez.

Without reauthorization, E-Verify will expire in November (only a short time away on a very abbreviated legislative calendar). Thus, the price that Sen. Menendez is asking to continue a program that protects thousands of Americans from losing their jobs to illegal aliens is the admission of hundreds of thousands of new workers to compete with them in a recessionary economy.

Now, if Congress could only write legislation to recapture those lost American jobs!

Ira Mehlman

Ira Mehlman is the Media Director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.