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Fast Tracking Trade Agreements Could Abrogate Congressional Immigration Authority

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Congress will soon take up “fast track” trade promotion authority legislation that would allow President Obama to submit trade agreements to Congress for a simple-majority vote without being subject to amendment. If passed, the first likely trade deal to come up is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which reportedly includes guest worker provisions Congress could not change.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a sweeping international regulatory agreement that effects everything from the environment and energy to the minimum wage, food and immigration. If approved, it would have the force of a treaty. Its regulations would override U.S. law and the White House would not be obligated to follow any directives Congress offers on what those rules should look like.

TPP’s provisions are largely secret but, according to Curtis Ellis of the American Jobs Alliance, the U.S. Trade Representative revealed that “temporary entry” guest worker visas are a “key feature” of the pact. Ellis said that Obama Administration previously used the U.S.-South Korea trade pact to expand the length of time a L-1 visa holder can work in the U.S. That pact is viewed a a model for negotiating the TPP.

Republicans have traditionally supported fast track authority for trade agreements while Democrats opposed it. The upcoming debate will have Republicans like Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisc.) carrying the president’s trade pact authority (TPA) legislation and incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer leading the opposition. Sen. Jeff Sessions and other Republicans who oppose the immigration-related implications of the pact will join the opposition as will unions and environmental groups.

While the Obama Administration negotiated the TPP over the last five years, business groups pushed for the inclusion of beneficial provisions. A guarantee of more high-tech and other guest workers – something business could not obtain from Congress – is seen as topping their “wish list.” If the TPP provides for the free flow of guest workers between the signatory countries, Congress could not legislate changes after the fact. Trying to reassert it constitutionally-bestowed authority over immigration would enable one of the countries to sue the United States in a court of international law.

Ellis concludes that “(i)t would be inexcusable for Congress to give Obama TPA so he can fast-track his immigration agenda.”

Read more in Politico and The Hill.

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