EDITOR'S NOTE: The House Immigration Subcommittee convened on Thursday to discuss the impact of illegal aliens in the workforce on vulnerable Americans.The hearing didn't get much attention, but it discussed a serious topic, including the comments made by Greg Serbon - a union worker who discussed the disconnect between the pro-illegal-alien union leaders and the pro-enforcement union members. While dissenters threw out unrealistic, hypothetical solutions, Serbon directed his focus an attrition through enforcement solution.
While the House Homeland Security Committee held a highly publicized hearing in the Cannon Building about radicalization in the American Muslim community, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement hosted a rather mellow hearing titled “New Jobs in Recession and Recovery: Who Are Getting Them and who Are Not” two buildings over.
The hearing was sparsely attended, stealthy unnoticed and, frankly, quite lackluster despite the important material discussed. It’s usually the Homeland Security Committee that gets little respect and passed over while the Judiciary Committee basks in media attention, but this was not the case Thursday.
The Congressmen in attendance were Elton Gallegly (Subcommittee Chairman) of California, Lamar Smith (Committee Chairman) of Texas, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Zoe Lofgren (Subcommittee Ranking Member), and John Conyers (Committee Ranking Member).
The witnesses were Steve Camarota with the Center for Immigration Studies, Rakesh Kochhar with the Pew Hispanic Center, Greg Serbon with the Indiana Federation for Immigration Reform, and Heidi Shierholz with the Economic Policy Institute.
The Committee was noticeably absent of Members because of those who share responsibilities on the Homeland Security Committee. It’s sometimes manageable to work two committee hearings at the same time, yet in this case with the hearing rooms so far away, it was a daunting task.
Anyway, after some legislative business regarding private relief bills (special bills to help individuals in unique immigration situations) and an opening statement by Chairman Gallegly, Ranking Member Lofgren opened her end of the discussion by claiming that “Immigrants can help create large numbers of jobs.” Her statement was all about the false perception of a divided, two society, America (not much different from Former Presidential Candidate John Edwards’s two-America campaign). The whole tone of her statement was sympathy for poor immigrants who are cast off, demonized, and looked down upon despite their value to the community. She said, “we’re pitting one group against the other; foreign born against native born…we’re pitting one group of citizens against the other.” In other words, complete melodrama.
However, she did make one fascinating remark that makes me believe she has at least a faint understanding of our current problems. She said,
Our current legal immigration system should be designed to reflect the needs of our economy.
She went on to say that H-2B visas need to be reformed and that they should not be used for construction labor. I think that may be the first time I have ever heard Ms. Lofgren express concern about a visa category in a negative connotation.
After Ms. Lofgren’s statement, Committee Chairman Lamar Smith read a statement that set the official tone for the hearing. He said,
At the Subcommittee’s last hearing, we focused on the negative effects of cheap foreign labor on American minorities. Let me mention another group of Americans who are especially hard it – teenagers. In June of 2000, a majority of the nation’s teens were employed. Ten years later, in June of 2010, less than 29% of the nation’s teens were employed. This represented the first time in the entire post-World War II era that the June employment rate for teenagers had fallen below 30%. The figures are even worse for youth from low-income or minority families.
We need to protect the jobs and wages of struggling Americans and legal immigrants. This includes teenagers new to the workforce and seasoned workers with years of valuable experience. We should design our immigration policy so that it enhances rather than diminishes opportunities for American workers.
After the Chairman’s Statement, John Conyers offered his always enlightening opinion. He said he has a “nagging feeling” that the Committee is pitting immigrants against American workers. As usual, Mr. Conyers just doesn’t understand the problem. The Judiciary Committee and Congress are not pitting anyone against another. Illegal Immigrants are in direct competition with legal immigrants and citizens. There are a finite number of jobs considering our 10% unemployment rate. The problem was created by poor border control, immigration, and economic policies by the current and previous presidential administrations. The Judiciary Committee is simply recognizing the problem and trying to assess a solution, not something counter destructive.
Following Mr. Conyers was the witness statements and a round of questions led by Mr. Gallegly. Notably, the Chairman posed a question to Mr. Serbon about whether or not he believes there are actually jobs that illegal aliens have that American workers would like to have instead. Mr. Serbon boldly said that there are indeed Americans who will take these jobs. The Chairman posed the same question to Dr. Camarota who replied with a statistic indicating that as immigration has increased, the share of jobs for teenage and less educated workers has declined.
When it was Ms. Lofgren’s turn to question, she asked a hypothetical question about what would happen if we pulled 11 million people (her combined number for legal and illegal immigrants) out of the workforce. Kind of like that misguided propaganda movie: A Day Without A Mexican. As expected, Dr. Shierholz responded by saying the transition would be very difficult and would create a large economic shock.
She said, “You would not just lose immigrants, you would lose consumers. There would not be immediate job openings.”
However, Dr. Shierholz and Ms. Lofgren need to understand that such a hypothetical scenario is not likely and isn’t even recommended by any side in the debate. Instead, an attrition through enforcement strategy would begin the slow migration of illegal aliens to their home countries without the added economic shock.
Mr. Gohmert asked Mr. Serbon why labor unions (Serbon indicated earlier in his statement that he was a lifelong union member) have a history of supporting native born workers, but have now embraced illegal immigration as being important to their membership.
Serbon responded by saying, “Some of the higher-ups embrace; I have no clue what they are thinking.”
Serbon continued the conversation by discussing how some immigrant contractors hire their own people exclusively. He said, “I’ve seen all Romanian construction crews” and that there was no way for an outsider to work their way in.
With Mr. Conyers controlling the time, Mr. Serbon continued by saying that if we just stop illegal immigration for a couple of years that we would be in a better position. Conyers then asked about sending back all the illegal aliens and Serbon said “with attrition through enforcement, they’ll go back on their own.”
What Mr. Serbon demonstrated at this hearing was a common working man who understands the problem and the most effective solution. He wants to restore and reinvigorate the workforce by confronting the illegal immigration problem. He understands that jobs are finite in our current economy and that those available should go to citizens first and legal immigrants second.
While this was not the most entertaining hearing, this combined with the previous hearings is starting to build a solid case for moving some significant legislation through the House Judiciary Committee during this Congress.
JONATHAN OSBORNE is the Chief Legislative Analyst for NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, Mar 11th 2011 @ 10:21pm EST