Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) delivered a speech on the Senate floor last week shortly before the chamber voted on the omnibus spending bill that more than doubled the number H-2B visas that can be issued for the remainder of the fiscal year. Sen. Cotton, who has introduced legislation that would cut permanent, legal immigration in half, said that Congress ignored the lessons of the 2016 election and is out of touch with the American people.
Here are excerpts from Sen. Cotton's speech:
In a 1,700-page bill, they don't hide the good things in the bill, they only hide the bad things. So look to page 735, section 543—where you will find an increase in H-2B visas of almost 79,000. A 120 percent increase over the normal annual cap of a so-called seasonal visa program for temporary workers that can take up to nine or ten months. It's not necessary. It has nothing to do with funding the government, nothing. It hasn't been vetted. It hasn't gone through the normal legislative process, which would be the Judiciary Committee, where the chairman and the senior Democrat both have written that they oppose this measure.
I don't even know how it got in there. I don't know if it was the chairman, the ranking member. They may not know—1,700 pages, after all. It takes hours to even figure out what it means it's so complicated in language. But this is what it does: it takes jobs away from American workers and abuses the immigrants that come into this country.
In the past 10 years, the Department of Labor has found 800 employers, 800, who have abused 23,000 guest workers. Everything from stealing their wages, demanding bribes for their visas, even sexual abuse—and those are only the ones that have been caught. And that’s because unlike American workers, these immigrant workers cannot leave their jobs. If they are fired they go back to their home country where they often have huge families who are depending on them for their remittances. Their employers know that and they take advantage of them. It is a new-fangled form of indentured servitude.
Some people in this institution complain about the way Arab countries treat guest workers from South Asia and Southeast Asia. The conditions in which some of these H-2B workers operate are hardly much better. They live in filth and squalor. They’re charged exorbitant fees for their housing and for their food. And their employers largely get away with it because they know that these immigrant workers will not complain. They will not go to the authorities. They will not report it to the Department of Labor, because if they do, they go back to their home country.
And those are just the immigrant workers. What about the American workers? There are a lot of reasons why unscrupulous American employers favor temporary guest workers. They don’t have to pay payroll taxes on them, for instance. They don’t have to pay unemployment taxes on them. But the real reason is, those workers have virtually no leverage to demand higher wages. As I said, they could be sent home because they are tied to a single employer.
Americans have more bargaining power. If they can get a better wage down the road then they will go down the road. If they can get better benefits then they can go to a new job. But those guest workers cannot. The employers who abuse the H-2B program go to the greatest lengths to avoid hiring an American worker. The program says you have to advertise for the job in advance. And they do, hundreds of miles away in obscure newspapers that have nothing to do with the employer’s local economy.
Many employers discourage Americans from applying in the first place. Remember, these are unskilled labor positions, unskilled. These are not high-tech jobs. These are unskilled guest workers. They subject American workers to the most extreme, unreasonable, extraneous tests before they hire them. Tests they do not submit those foreign guest workers to because they can pay them lower wages. And when they finally are forced to hire an American worker because they face penalties from the Department of Labor if they don’t, they try to make the conditions as bad as possible for them so they can fire them and then replace them with a foreigner.
A lot of the arguments for this kind of program boil down to this: No American worker will do that job. That is a lie. It is a lie. There is no job that Americans will not do. There is no industry in America where a majority of workers are not native-born American citizens or first-generation lawful immigrants. Not landscapers, not construction workers, not ski instructors, not lifeguards, not resort workers, not crab men, not a single one. If the wage is decent and the employer obeys the law, Americans will do the job. And if it’s not, they should pay higher wages. To say anything else is an insult to the work ethic of the American people who make this country run.
We just had an election in which the president distinguished himself more on immigration than any single issue. You all realize that, right? You all realize that uncontrolled mass migration is upending the politics and societies all across Europe. You all realize that, right? What is it going to take for the people in Washington, D.C. to realize just how out of touch they are when it comes to protecting the jobs and the wages of American workers?
Mr. President, I will vote no. And I will say that today is not the day when Washington realizes just how out of touch they are.
You can view Sen. Cotton's speech here.
Updated: Mon, Jul 24th 2017 @ 3:20pm EDT