Lisa Venus's picture

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  by  Lisa Irving

As Black unemployment persists at high rates, data mounts on how visa programs work to keep Americans, and Blacks in particular, un- and under-employed.

Pamela Denise Long and Miriam Jordan took on this troubling reality in recently published articles.

Long asks "Should Black Americans Champion Immigration?" for her October Newsweek opinion piece 一 then probes this question in the column:

...[I]n a labor market that is increasingly inhospitable to the lower classes and has never been made to work for Black Americans, our country sometimes seems to prefer to offer its bounty to others...
Over and over, legal and illegal immigration has been tied to a decrease in the wages and employment rate of Black Americans"

Long challenges business use of high-skilled as well as lower-skilled visa worker programs:

And like many Americans, Black Americans now fight for retention and inclusion in high tech job environments—for which they now have to compete with visa recipients from other countries."

In The New York Times column "Black Farmworkers Say They Lost Jobs to Foreigners Who Were Paid More," Miriam Jordan chronicles the ruinous impact H-2A visas have had on long-time Black farmworkers in the Mississippi Delta, some of whom are filing suit after losing jobs to higher-paid white South African visa holders whom they trained:

Farmers must ... show that they have tried, and failed, to find Americans to perform the work and they must pay domestic workers the same rate they are paying the imported laborers."

"In the Mississippi Delta, a region of high unemployment and entrenched poverty, the labor mobility that is widening the pool of fieldworkers is having a devastating effect on local workers who are often ill-equipped to compete with the new hires, frequently younger and willing to work longer hours."

The publicizing of how foreign work visas diminish prospects for Black farmworkers is not new. For example, in the 2015 Buzzfeed News column "All You Americans Are Fired," authors Jessica Garrison, Ken Bensinger and Jeremy Singer-Vine reported on how Hamilton Growers settled a lawsuit filed by mostly Black workers. They wrote:

Year after year, Hamilton Growers, which has supplied squash, cucumbers, and other produce to Wal-Mart and the Green Giant brand, hired scores of Americans, only to cast off many of them within weeks, according to the U.S. government. And time after time, the grower filled the jobs with foreign guest workers instead...

The H-2 program dates all the way back to 1952, and employers have been coming up with ways to game the system for almost as long."

Commission Findings on the Harm of Guest Worker Programs 一 Vernon M. Briggs, Professor of Labor Economics at the New York State School of Labor and Industrial Relations at Cornell University, wrote a detailed backgrounder titled, "Guestworker Programs: Lessons from the Past and Warnings for the Future," which provides a history of these programs and the findings of several commissions, including:

  • President Carter's National Commission on Manpower Policy that advised the president in May of 1979 that it was "strongly against" any expansion of the H-2 program.
  • Congress' 1979 Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy reported:

    "The idea of a large, temporary work program is tremendously attractive. Perhaps a better word though, would be "seductive." There is a superficial plausibility to this argument and the Commission gave it serious consideration for more than a year and a half. I can recall being very much entranced by it when I first joined the Commission. In the end, we were persuaded, after much study, that it would be a mistake to launch such a program."
  • The Commission on Immigration Reform chaired by the late Rep. Barbara Jordan spent six years studying U.S. immigration policy and adamantly rejected any notion that foreign worker visa programs be viewed as part of any solution. In its final report, the Commission stated that it "remains opposed to implementation of a large-scale program for temporary admission of lesser-skilled and unskilled workers."

Despite the numerous stories, lawsuits and findings, businesses and government officials continue to advocate for more guest worker programs.

LISA IRVING is the Volunteer Coordinator for NumbersUSA's Media Standards Project

Updated: Fri, Dec 17th 2021 @ 12:00pm EST

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