We’re just a little late in sharing this article that ran in the Wall Street Journal Opinion section on April 7th of this year. Better late than never we think. This article was circulating among seafood processors in the spring that utilize the H-2B program.
Obama’s Visa Double Game
Siding with unions instead of workers trying to follow the law.
Updated April 7, 2015 7:47 p.m. ET
The day after President Obama issued is executive orders on immigration last year, he told a high-school audience in Nevada that he acted to help correct a “fundamentally unfair” system that punishes people who “play by the rules,” “families who try to come here the right way” and “business owners who are doing the right thing by their workers.”
On April 15 we’ll find out if he means it. That’s the day a stay on a federal judge’s ruling throwing out the Labor Department’s authority to administer H-2B visas is set to expire. If the Obama Administration doesn’t get its act together, the whole program could be thrown into limbo—punishing precisely the people the President claims he wants to help.
H-2B visas are for non-agricultural jobs that are temporary or seasonal, and where unemployed Americans can’t be found to fill them. These people ought to be the easiest to welcome to this country, because they come here legally, do work Americans won’t do, aren’t interested in citizenship—and they support American jobs and enterprises. One catch: Big Labor hates guest-worker programs.
And, lo, the Obama Administration has used its authority to impose ever more rules that make the approval process for H-2B visas more complicated and difficult. Now it is lining up with labor activists who want the program killed.
Here’s how the game is working in Florida. The Migrant Farmworker Justice Project sued the Labor Department on behalf of Gabriel Perez, a busboy in Palm Beach. Mr. Perez claimed Labor’s H-2B regulations don’t give him, an American, enough protection—and that Labor doesn’t have the legal authority to issue these regulations. On March 4, federal Judge M. Casey Rodgers agreed and enjoined Labor from enforcing its rules.
It might appear Labor is the victim here, losing because Congress didn’t give the authority it expressly gave Labor over H-2A agricultural visas. But many who depend on H-2B visas suspect that what’s really going on is an Administration winking at litigation designed to strangle this program. Mr. Obama’s history suggests this hostility to guest workers is no accident.
We saw a similar scenario in 2007 when Senators Ted Kennedy and John McCain were making the tough compromises necessary to produce a bipartisan immigration bill. Senator Barack Obama said he supported immigration reform. But when it came time to act, Mr. Obama voted for a poison pill amendment that sunset the guest-worker provision after five years—which Kennedy vigorously opposed because he knew it undermined the bill. As indeed it did when the Obama-supported provision passed.
Regarding H-2Bs, the Administration could fix its legal problem by moving its rules—even the bad ones—from Labor to Homeland Security. Instead, Labor responded to the judge’s ruling by shutting down H-2B visas altogether. Homeland Security followed the next day.
This provoked a sharp letter from 13 Senators—five Democrats and eight Republicans—to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. The Senators said they were “shocked” by the decision. Their message was unmistakable: Get your fannies in gear and fix this thing.
Shortly afterward, Labor asked Judge Rodgers for a stay. In granting it, the judge hinted she too had her doubts about Labor’s sincerity, pointing out that the department should have known this was coming given she had ruled the same way on the same point in another case in December. “[I]t is disingenuous,” she wrote, “to suggest that the court, rather than DOL, is somehow responsible for DOL’s lack of a contingency plan here.”
Now the Administration says it will have a new fix in place by April 30, which suggests it may be planning to complicate the regulations even further. This is nonsense. All Homeland Security needs to do is put in place clear and simple rules that make it easier for law-abiding employers to hire law-abiding workers. There is no excuse for not having it ready by April 15 when Judge Rodgers’s stay expires.
Mr. Obama is good at playing the politics of immigration to make Republicans look bad. If only he were willing to buck Big Labor in ways that help individual workers.