Andrew Good's picture


  by  Andrew Good

Yesterday, The Associated Press published yet another immigration story with the business lobbyist-preferred "worker shortage" frame for their coverage: "Ahead of Kentucky Derby, worker shortage looms for trainers" (headline by ABC News).

As usual, the narrative being serviced is that the American carnage we need to fear is that which results from any lack or shortage of indentured foreign nonimmigrant visas. The visa in question here is the H-2B (seasonal, non-agricultural).

The AP's leading character in the story is a horse trainer named Dale Romans. How did he become the central character in the story? Who pitched him to The Associated Press? When the pitch was received with his career accomplishments, did anyone in an institution obsessed with amplifying the right kind of voices do any further digging?

A few years ago, Romans said he'd like to leave America in favor of Hong Kong (I wonder if the crackdown on Hong Kong has given him any more appreciation for America). He also had a lawsuit filed against him by his own brother (Jerry Romans) in 2016. It wasn't either of their first trips to court, as they were jointly named in a lawsuit in 1993, as well. Meanwhile, a man allegedly worth $18 million is the main representative in a story fretting about the cost of low-wage workers.

Maybe he's the perfect spokesman for the elite perspective.

To her credit, reporter Piper Hudspeth Blackburn balances the piece professionally with pointed, substantive quotes from the Center for Migrant Rights' Evy Peña:

Peña argues that H-2B visa workers have less legal protection than their American counterparts. They risk losing their jobs, immigration status and possibly the opportunity of being hired again under the program if they complain.

..and the Kentucky Equine Education Project's Elisabeth Jensen:

“We’re also working with our employers to help them understand that it’s not like it was 20 years ago,” she said. “They’re competing with the Amazons and the other people who are able to offer more financially.”

Blackburn then adds this helpful context:

Take a backside worker at Churchill Downs as an example. A worker hired under the H-2B visa program makes roughly $11.50 an hour on average, according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Labor. Amazon employees make $15 per hour. Both pay higher than Kentucky minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour.

These are the key points:

A close reading shows a balanced story that pits the interests of an unsympathetic, underpaying horse trainer against the interests of U.S. workers and a fair labor market with rights and protections. But The Associated Press resolved to force it into the tired narrative that any immigration limit harms us - even ones on programs that are bad for all but the most advantaged and unscrupulous.

You'd think President Trump's 2016 victory would've provoked a change of horse, but the media seems determined to ride this nag till it drops.

ANDREW GOOD is the Director of the Media Standards Program for NumbersUSA

Updated: Wed, Dec 30th 2020 @ 2:24pm EST

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