Donald Trump stepped back from previous promises about protecting American workers and identified himself with both Marco Rubio and Mark Zuckerberg in extolling foreign tech workers. Marco Rubio overstated his protections for American workers with his efforts for H-1B expansion. Rick Santorum missed precision in some of his numbers but was in ballpark in focusing immigration policy on its relationship to labor force participation and stagnant wages. CNBC trotted out its own questionable anecdote to suggest that the country may have a labor shortage.
Those and more as we look at a rather limited discussion of the economic effects of immigration in debates tonight centered on economic issues.
Nonetheless, the CNBC debates succeeded over the previous Fox debate night and two CNN debate nights which treated immigration almost entirely as an issue of illegal migration, enforcement and amnesty.
Tonight's two debates were the closest thus far in dealing with the big question of our NumbersUSA ad which has run in all the debates: Is one million a year the right number for legal immigration when 15 million Americans who want a full-time job can't find one.
Below is information to point people toward questions that need to be asked related to comments made tonight about immigration.
CNBC's BECKY QUICK: "But very recently, the CEO of Toll Brothers told that he can't get by without immigrants because they make up more than half of his workforce at this point. We're not talking about people who are making minimum wage but he can't find Americans who want to do these jobs for $20-an-hour-plus jobs."
SANTORUM & PATAKI: Both responded with variations on why the anecdote about Toll Brothers doesn't build a case for immigration of construction workers. Santorum's response: "We need to get better training and better skills, including vocational education . . . But the bottom line is, we have to make sure that we are not flooding this country with competition." Pataki's response was a call to celebrate the Americans "who do things with their hands, and elevate their skills using training in high school and community colleges."
FACT-FINDING: I'm not finding the origin of this anecdote about Toll Brothers which is a Pennsylvania company that bills itself as "America's Luxury Home Builder." Are there no American construction workers to do the jobs being filled by all the foreign workers Toll Brothers is hiring? The Economic Policy Center finds that for every 10 job openings in construction there are 45 unemployed construction workers. This would indicate that Santorum and Pataki were on track by refusing to respond to accept that the anecdote reveals a labor shortage or need for foreign construction workers. https://www.tollbrothers.com http://www.stateofworkingamerica.org/charts/unemployed-and-job-openings-...
Rubio was challenged on his support for more foreign H-1B tech workers by CNBC with a quote from Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) who said "the tech industry uses this program to undercut hiring and wages for highly qualified Americans."
RUBIO SAID: "Well, first of all, if a company gets caught doing that, they should never be able to use the program again. If you get caught abusing this program, you should never be able to use it again. The second thing I said is we need to add reforms, not just increase the numbers, but add reforms. For example, before you hire anyone from abroad, you should have to advertise that job for 180 days. You also have to prove that you're going to pay these people more than you would pay someone else, so that you're not undercutting it by bringing in cheap labor. But here's the best solution of all. We need to get back to training people in this country to do the jobs of the 21st century. Why, for the life of me, I do not understand why did we stop doing vocational education in America, people that can work with their hands; people you can train to do this work while they're still in high school so they can graduate ready to go work. But the best way to close this gap is to modernize higher education so Americans have the skills for those jobs. But in the interim, in the absence of that, what's happening is some of these tech companies are taking those -- those centers (ph) to Canada because they can get people to go over there instead of here."
FACT-FINDING: It would be nice if all the protections suggested by Sen. Rubio were in the bill he is sponsoring with Sen. Orin Hatch (R-Utah). But that bill does not require higher prevailing wages or recruitment of U.S. workers.
The national association of electrical engineers issued a statement saying Rubio's bill would help destroy the U.S. tech workforce.
Ron Hira, a professor of public policy at Howard University and a leading researcher on the issue, said the bill gives the tech industry "a huge increase in the supply of lower-cost foreign guest workers so they can undercut and replace American workers."
An article in ComputerWorld by Patrick Thibodeau quoteshttp://www.computerworld.com/article/2868428/new-h-1b-bill-will-help-des... explains that Rubio's bill increases the H-1B visa cap to 195,000 and eliminates the cap on people who earn an advanced degree in a STEM (science, technology, education and math) field. EPI estimates that between 2007 and 2012 nearly 776,000 H-1B visas were issued -- an average of almost 130,000 per year. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that between 2007 and 2012 nearly 776,000 H-1B visas were issued -- an average of almost 130,000 per year
Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at EPI said the bill doesn't include reforms such as higher prevailing wages and requirements to recruit U.S. workers. Nor does the bill limit the use of the H-1B visa by offshore outsourcing firms, he said. "This bill is basically a wish list for the tech industry," said Costa.
Rubio continues to perpetuate the myth advanced by the tech titans that Americans aren't going into the tech fields. But there have been many reports in recent years of a glut of American tech workers resulting in a 9% decline in wages for new computer science grads.
Trump was asked about his previous criticisms of both Rubio and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and their promotion of work permits for more foreign students and foreign tech workers. In fact, Trump has criticized both. But tonight he denied it and took their side.
TRUMP SAID: "I was not at all critical of him. I was not at all. In fact, frankly, he's complaining about the fact that we're losing some of the most talented people. They go to Harvard. They go to Yale. They go to Princeton. They come from another country and they're immediately sent out. I am all in favor of keeping these talented people here so they can go to work in Silicon Valley. . . . I'm in favor of people coming into this country legally. And you know what? They can have it anyway you want. You can call it visas, you can call it work permits, you can call it anything you want. I've created tens of thousands of jobs, and in all due respect -- and actually some of these folks I really like a lot -- but I'm the only one that can say that. I have created tens of thousands of jobs, and I'll be creating many millions of jobs if I'm given -- if I'm given the opportunity to be president."
FACT-FINDING: We'll supply the links to show that CNBC was correct and Trump was wrong to say that he had not criticized Rubio and Zuckerberg. More disturbing is Trump's seeming to backtrack on his previous championing the cause of American tech workers. Trump definitely was talking tonight a line that was not the same as his August 2015 immigration plan that is on his website. In his plan, Trump calls for increasing the prevailing wage for H-1B visas and a requirement to hire American workers first. It states, "raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas.... Requirement to hire American workers first. Too many visas, like the H-1B, have no such requirement... Petitions for workers should be mailed to the unemployment office, not USCIS." Source: https://www.donaldjtrump.com/positions/immigration-reform
He didn't exactly contradict his plan tonight but he certainly showed he was far more interested in being on the side of Mark Zuckerberg than American tech workers. It is likely that his Worker-Protection Immigration ratings will go down in at least two categories after his performance tonight.
SANTORUM SAID: legal immigration should be cut because "we've brought in 35 million -- 35 million legal and illegal immigrants --over the last 20 years,"
FACT-FINDING: Close. Over the last 25 years, there have been 25 million legal immigrants and 9-10 illegal migrants added to the U.S.
Another way of looking at it comes from the recent Pew report that found there have been more than 35 million new immigrants and births to those immigrants added to the U.S. over the last 20 years.
Santorum reminds voters that immigration adds millions upon millions of people to a labor market in which wages have been stagnant in many occupations.
SANTORUM SAID: legal immigration should be cut because U.S. has lowest labor participation rate in 50 years
FACT: Santorum is in ballpark that rate is very low, but the labor participation rate is lowest in 38 years, when it was a tenth of a percent lower than now.
Focusing on participation rate is much more helpful than unemployment figures in understanding the U.S. employment situation. The country has these near-record levels of working-age Americans who either are denied the chance they seek to support themselves and be productive and working-age Americans for various reasons who are resigned to being dependent on the government, family and charities.
ROY BECK is Founder & CEO of NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, Feb 19th 2016 @ 10:24am EST