It is for this reason that Republicans — chief among them non-savior Marco Rubio, the senator from Florida — cannot and will not accept immigration reform that does not rewrite legal immigration rules.
Legal immigration is now the subject of intense outside negotiations between the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (which are aligned in pursuit of reform, unlike in 2007), as well as other stakeholders. Business wants actual job demands to determine how many visas are issued for all varieties of work. Big labor wants — get ready — a commission to review the needs and decide how many visas should be allocated. There’s no resolution. Yet. The White House eyes this intense debate with Sphinx-like inscrutability.
It’s a high-stakes fight over an alphabet soup of visas, which includes but is not limited to H-1B for immigrants with highly specialized “theoretical and practical” knowledge suitable for high-tech jobs; H-2A for seasonal agricultural workers who pick crops; H-2B for peak-season nonagricultural workers who toil at theme parks, hotels, restaurants, and ski resorts; and H-4 for the family members (nonworking spouses and children) of H-2A and H-2B workers, who are desperate to legally live in America.
According to the State Department, there were 117,409 H-1B visa recipients in 2010 and 129,134 in 2011 — not nearly enough, according to business leaders and those eager to keep top-performing immigrant specialists here. The Washington Post on Tuesday wrote of student visa recipients from India who have invented a “world-changing” system to decontaminate water from hydraulic fracking. They may have to leave America and take their plans to hire 100 employees to India or elsewhere. The story said that places like China, Canada, Germany, Australia, and Singapore are dangling cash and other incentives before visa-limited American innovators such as these.
And what about the workers who wash dishes, change sheets at hotels, mow resort golf courses, and provide home health care? Are they temporary? Are they high-skilled? No. Are they necessary? Absolutely. What are the legal numbers for these workers going forward? The choice will be a functioning U.S. economy, with a ready supply of legal labor, or a choked off and backward legal immigration system (like we have now), where the jobs are filled but by illegals … and we repeat the … cycle all over again.
The biggest immigration news of the weekend wasn’t the leak. It was what the leak exposed. And what the Senate working group, now on a tight deadline, will have to address with specificity, originality, and political deftness.
You read it here first. If immigration reform dies, it will not be because of disagreeable topics such as border security, legalization, or a “national ID card.”
It will be because of the agreeable topic of legal immigration.
This article appears in the Feb. 20, 2013, edition of National Journal Daily.