Why Sen. Bernie Sanders is skeptical of guest workers.
By Dylan Matthews, Published: May 25, 2013
Sen. Bernard “Bernie” Sanders (I-Vt.) is the junior U.S. senator from Vermont. We spoke on the phone Friday afternoon about his views on the comprehensive immigration reform legislation that is pending in the Senate. A lightly edited transcript follows.
Dylan Matthews: In 2007, you had some concerns about the immigration bill being weighed by the Senate, and voted against it. Now that the new Gang of Eight bill is out of committee, what do you make of it?
Sen. Bernie Sanders: Thanks for calling. Let me just say this. I’m a strong supporter of immigration reform, and of the need to provide a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. I very strongly support the DREAM Act, and will continue to strongly support it. I very strongly believe, as someone who knows what’s going on in the dairy industry in Vermont, that there’s no question we need to create a status for immigrant workers in agriculture, and I think the committee is making good progress there.
In other words, even though Bernie knows the immigration bill is bad for the country, as he will explain at length, he`s signaling that his vote can possibly be bought if enough goodies for Vermont dairy farmers are ladled onto the bill. This demonstrates a fundamental problem with the Gang of Eight`s bill: compromises to attract marginal votes are likely not to make the bill better by reducing immigration, but to make the bill worse by giving away more visas to special interests.
But, after that ignominious beginning, Bernie does better:
My concerns are in regards to where we stand in terms of guest workers programs, made worse by amendments offered by Senator Hatch. What I do not support is, under the guise of immigrant reform, a process pushed by large corporations which results in more unemployment and lower wages for American workers.
As you well know, we remain in the midst of a severe recession. Real unemployment, once you consider people who’ve given up looking for work, is close to 14 percent, and in some parts of the country is even higher. For minorities it’s very high, and we’ve got to address that. You have massively high unemployment for young people, yet we’re talking about expanding visas so that young people from abroad can serve as life guards, become ski instructors, become front desk people, when young people in this country desperately need jobs to pay for a college education.
The notion that being a life guard or a ski instructor or working at the front desk of a five star resort hotel is a job young Americans just won`t do is indeed pretty weird.
I am aware that there may well be certain high-skilled jobs in specific areas in high skilled technical industries that American companies are finding it hard to fill. I find it hard to understand that, when nine million people in this country have degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, only about three million have jobs in these areas.
Furthermore, as someone who was led to believe that what economics was about was supply and demand,
if you need workers in a certain area, you need to raise wages. I have a hard time understanding the notion that there’s a severe need for more workers from abroad when wages for these jobs rose only 4.5 percent between 2000 and 2011. You see stagnant wages for high skilled workers, when these companies tell you that they desperately need high skilled workers. Why not raise wages to attract those workers?
The bottom line is that I feel, very much, that a lot of the initiative behind these guest workers programs, a very large expansion of guest worker programs — H2B visas would go up to as many as 195,000, H1B to as many as 205,000 a year — is coming from large corporations who want cheap labor from abroad.
Q. What do you make of the W visa program for low-skilled workers that came out of a deal by the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce?
A. I want to take a harder look at that. But again, look, when you have very high unemployment rates for low-skilled workers in this country, for kids who graduate high school, I’m very dubious about the need to bring foreign unskilled labor into this country. These are kids, young high school graduates, and the unemployment rate is just extremely high. I do not understand why they cannot hire those people and need foreign labor.
… A couple of years ago, I believe it was Exxon Mobil that said they could not find American welders. I don’t believe it. … Again, if there’s such a crisis, why haven’t wages gone up?
Q. One counterargument to that view which I’ve heard is that, while high-skilled wages haven’t risen that much in absolute terms, this is in a context where the average American worker, as you’re well aware, is seeing wages stagnate, if not fall. So in relative terms, wages for these workers are going up.
A. Again, if there is this great crisis which I am hearing about, that the American economy absolutely depends on having more high-tech workers, then the law of supply and demand is that when you need something, you pay for it, right? Didn’t you learn that in elementary school?
The concept of “supply and demand” is just so 19th and 20th Century. In the 21st Century, it`s been replaced by the concept of “Who? Whom?” That`s much simpler than having to draw intersecting supply and demand curves — it`s all just a question of who you feel are the Good Guys and who do you feel are the Bad Guys. If you feel that your fellow American citizens are good guys, then you are a Bad Guy, so shut up and feel lucky that you still have a job, unlike that Dr. Richwine, if you know what I mean?
What matters is that there’s a variety of reasons that the middle class in this country is disappearing. Real wages of millions of workers have gone down. For corporations to say, “Here’s what’s going on in other areas,” doesn’t answer the question. If you want high-skilled workers, you need to wage raises. But if you want cheap labor, you bring in workers from abroad.
Cartoonist Ted Rall writes:
SYNDICATED COLUMN: Immigration Reform is Treason
May 30th, 2013
Unemployment is High. Why Are We Importing Foreign Workers?
Unemployment is sky-high. Sustained long-term unemployment is at record levels. So why the hell are we importing foreign workers?
The immigration reform bill moving through Congress will throw open the door to millions of new foreigners — people who aren’t here yet — to enter the United States to work. And we’re not talking about crappy fruit-picking gigs Americans supposedly don’t want (more on that below).
“American” (you have to wonder about their loyalties) lawmakers want foreigner nationals to fill America’s high-paying tech jobs. While Americans are out of work.
At the risk of sounding like Pat Buchanan: WTF?
For at least 20 years, the U.S. economy has been replacing good manufacturing jobs with bad service jobs. Salaries have fallen. Which has depressed demand. As things stand, there’s one bright spot: the potential for the IT sector to lift us out of the rut. To paraphrase George Orwell’s “1984?: If there is hope for America’s unemployed, it lies with tech.
Make that: “lied.” Because America’s tech companies — which makes most of its money selling its crap to Americans — are hell-bent on hiring just about anyone who is not an American citizen.