Imagine a car salesman selling you a Lamborghini and delivering a go-kart instead. That’s what the last week has felt like.
We were thrilled to see President Trump’s tweet saying he would suspend immigration into the country to protect American workers as the Chinese coronavirus ravages the economy. Not only would such a desperately needed pause on immigration be popular with about 80 percent of the American people, it would also stand on strong legal footing. Keep in mind that the Supreme Court reaffirmed the president’s authority to do such a thing in 2018.
Sounds great, right? Not so fast. The alarm went off here in the swamp, as administration officials and lobbyists seem to have convinced the president to place the wishes of business interests over American workers.
Sadly, the executive order he ended up signing last Wednesday does not deliver for the 26 million Americans who have lost their jobs since March 21. Instead, it contains massive exemptions and is designed to satisfy powerful business interests that value a steady flow of cheap foreign labor.
Not only does the exemption-filled executive order apply to less than 10 percent of immigrants according to FAIR’s analysis, it completely ignores what is arguably the largest component of foreign-born impact on the welfare of American workers: out of control guest-worker programs including H-1B, H-2A, and H-2B. These programs contribute to a yearly flow of around 1 million foreign workers, many of whom stay for years while occupying jobs that could be held by Americans.
Fact is, guest-worker programs have spun completely out of control and do a world of harm to American workers. The damage is exacerbated as we inch closer to Great Depression levels of unemployment.
Under what craven notion of American equity would the United States continue a subordinated labor importation program at a time when American workers are in such distress? The optics are devastating—we are becoming a two-class society, with a servant caste relegated to guestworker status continuing apace while Americans search desperately for employment.
Despite what some advisers within the president’s orbit tell him, the fact that Democrats have abandoned core common sense on immigration controls also doesn’t mean a capitulation on the issue won’t have consequences affecting voter enthusiasm come November. The American public understands that a meaningful pause of immigration must include all immigrants, especially guest workers.
So what should the president do? It’s simple. A new executive order could be issued to include all forms of immigration, including guest-worker programs, which would help Americans currently out of the labor force to come back in now and when the economy finally starts to recover.
The executive order explicitly leaves this door open, with a section saying that in the next 30 days, the secretaries of state, labor, and homeland security must “review [guestworker programs] and recommend to me other measures appropriate to stimulate the United States economy and ensure the prioritization, hiring and employment of United States workers.”
American workers are counting on administration officials and the president himself to quit placating business interests and make things right. The clock is ticking.