The writer is a May 1 Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights co-coordinator.
The momentum for achieving so-called immigration reform continues to grow in Congress to the point where some Washington insiders describe it as “unstoppable.”
On May 21, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 to approve what a May 22 Reuters article called “the biggest changes in immigration policy in a generation.” The bill is so sweeping and far-reaching in scope that this article stated that nothing of comparable scope has been accomplished in Congress since the 2010 elections. That midterm election is when Republicans won overwhelming control of the House.
The bill, now expected to go to the floor in June for full Senate approval, has rare bipartisan cooperation, with four members from each party uniting to develop the 844-page piece of legislation, S.744, The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act.
Known as the Gang of 8, the bill’s authors are Republican Senators Marco Rubio (Fla.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), and Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.).
Media publications indicate that it remains to be seen if the bill will move further and reach the House of Representatives, as there are reports of contention about providing federally funded healthcare for undocumented people who may become legal residents.
Nonetheless, if you look at “who won what” in this round, it demonstrates that the so-called immigration reform on the table absolutely represents the interest of the ruling class and not at all the interests of the working class, born here or abroad.
High-tech corporations write amendment
According to various news sources, the high-tech industry can take much credit in influencing the current bill. After five days of hearings, which supposedly were some of the most transparent in a long time, various amendments were added, many that the high-tech industry was behind.
Late May 21, the day the bill passed, Sens. Schumer and Hatch struck a deal to streamline restrictions and regulatory requirements for corporations that aim to hire skilled workers from abroad. These workers are mainly hired through the visa program known as H-1B.
As it stands now, the legislation ups these visas from 65,000 to as many as 180,000. Many of these visas will go to hire highly skilled workers such as engineers and programmers from abroad. An amendment reached as a compromise toward the end of the hearings removes the requirement that companies first have to offer some of these tech jobs to U.S.-born workers.
It also relaxes the method for determining the yearly number of foreign-born workers the high-tech companies can hire. Known as the Schumer-Hatch compromise, it offers more flexibility to these firms. Before, the firms that applied to hire H-1B workers would have been prohibited from displacing U.S. workers within 90 days, but the deal now requires the firms to only “state” they do not plan to displace U.S. workers.
The captains of high-tech industry were giddy and applauded lawmakers for lifting the visa cap, but especially for making it easier to hire foreign-born workers. These capitalists argued that any hiring restrictions would have slowed their “growth and innovation” by hampering their ability to hire for specialized positions.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka took offense at the concessions and said they were “unambiguous attacks” on U.S. workers. (L.A. Times, May 18)
One deal that could not be made was on immigration rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer families. Despite the “lobbying” of these forces, senators stated that they could not include language allowing family unification for non-straight immigrants because Republicans threatened to walk away. This capitulation showed that profit interests always trump human rights.
Karen Lewis, leader of the Chicago Teachers Union, may have an answer for the high-tech industry and for the Democrats who caved in and sold out the LGBTQ community despite its loyalty to the Democratic Party.
And that is to take the struggle for workers rights to another level and wage class war in the finest traditions of the union movement in this country. Throughout U.S. history, workers in unions as well as from the communities have shown that only a militant struggle can win anything from the capitalist system.
No to guest-worker status
Workers from India or Pakistan or Mexico or Nigeria have every right to come here and work in this country. They have every right to these jobs. But what they don’t need is a guest-worker program that leaves so many workers, even highly skilled workers in limbo, in depressing stateless conditions, captive to the whims of the bosses, in fear of organizing and fighting for their rights.
This is exactly the kind of immigration reform the Senate is developing at this very moment.
It is not the kind of immigration reform workers have been fighting for for so long.
It is appalling that elected officials went along with the demand for more guest-worker visas for foreign workers. Not because workers from abroad should be prevented from working here. But because at the very same time that the high-tech captains cry that they need more skilled workers, schools are dangerously being closed around the country. And the possibility for working-class youth to achieve higher education is everyday becoming more and more a distant dream. The impossibility of going to college has become a horrid nightmare for so many young people.
Senator Chuck Schumer has promised that the immigration reform he and his greedy cabal have developed will become permanent legislation. But the working-class movement once it flexes its mighty arms can smash anything that is in its way. Schumer and the rest want more enforcement, more drones at the border, a repressive biometric system, legislation that makes it almost impossible to get legalized, exploitable and controllable guest workers with no rights whatsoever — they want the vast majority of the undocumented deported before the legislation even goes through.
But the many fires of struggle that exist in this country now — whether in the Chicago schools, the restaurants of New York or the universities and churches of North Carolina — all indicate that a mighty fire of struggle is on the horizon. It will one day burn that legislation the capitalist politicians are lauding.