A project of the Center for Community Change

Setting Ourselves up for Success

Another post from our guest blogger Robert Gittelson.

In all candor, I originally started working on this blog post in anticipation of the Senate Judiciary Immigration Sub-Committee hearing on business immigration that was re-scheduled for August 6th, from July 29th. Unfortunately, while I don’t feel that it would be productive to speculate as to the reasons why it has once again been canceled or postponed, “The hearing on “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Roundtable: Employment-Based Immigration to Propel America’s Economy While Protecting America’s Workforce” scheduled by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security for Thursday, August 6 at 10:00 a.m. has been canceled.”

However, I will soldier on with what I wanted to discuss about this topic, because this issue will prove to be the second most contentious issue of the upcoming battle to pass an effective Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, (after, of course, the earned legalization provisions of our nation’s undocumented residents). In particular, I want to address what I consider to be a huge part of this discussion, and it is an issue that has been largely skipped over by everyone when this topic is discussed.

What I want to talk about is administration, bureaucracy, and oversight.

I know, these are the least “sexy” items that anyone can think of about CIR, but guess what? These are exactly the bread and butter issues that will determine not only if CIR will be a successful or unsuccessful venture, but indeed whether CIR can be structured in a way that will ultimately be passed into law.

To set this up in the framework of how I want to discuss this topic, I want to go back and start this discussion with something that I wrote about a year ago in reference to guest worker programs, (taking into account my work history as a domestic apparel manufacturer): Work site transparency and enforcement will be the key to the issue of post-CIR legalization enforcement as well as guest worker labor enforcement. Once again, the devil will be in the details. On whose lap will fall the responsibility to enforce? IRS? OSHA? Dept. of Labor? State Labor Commissioners? I’m reminded of the time in the late 1990’s, when I wanted to produce a program for the GAP, using a California factory. GAP wanted to produce the goods at that factory as well. The problem was that the GAP only had a limited number of compliance officers available nationwide, and their California Compliance Dept. was already overbooked, and couldn’t handle any additional programs to oversee. Bottom line, I had to produce the program in a different state to get around the compliance issue. To achieve 100% work site CIR compliance enforcement nationwide will be a huge undertaking. Perhaps this is one of the “infrastructure” investments that will be required to be addressed in the early stages of the next administration. CIR encompasses so much more than just “amnesty”. We need serious and talented people to think through all of the multitude of subsidiary issues associated with the broader concepts of the plan, in order to make it functional and successful.

Now, I wrote this in the greater context of the overall responsibility to enforce CIR, and of the roles of the various departments of our government, and in particular, the Department of Homeland Security, to enforce these laws. DHS has vast powers, and in the hands of a competent Secretary, (and I believe that Janet Napolitano does have a reputation as being extremely competent), it will be possible to establish the functional roles of the several branches of our government to effectively work in concert to maximize the full potential for success on CIR.

It seems that everyone is too willing to throw their hands up in the air, and surrender to the concept that the problems inherent in making CIR work are too difficult and complicated for anyone to handle, much less our government. I respectfully disagree. If our “best and brightest” use their skills to structure CIR correctly, as Gene Wilder said in Young Frankenstein, “It…….Can……Work!” (Sorry if this reference is too obscure for our younger readers).

I have personally been writing about and advocating for the concept of a commission to address the level of new, legal immigration on an annual or quarterly basis for a couple of years now. I have called on Congress to establish this commission using a combination of public and private resources, including input at the cabinet level from various departments.

Similarly, labor organizations, such as Change to Win, have suggested the use of a commission: “Future Flow of Immigrant Workers. A blue ribbon commission should be created to study how to establish future flow levels and mechanisms for adjusting those levels. This commission must address much needed modification of current guest-worker programs to ensure that permanent jobs are not turned into temporary jobs with minimal labor protections, low wages and little or no benefits to workers. The blue ribbon commission should develop strict requirements for: compliance with labor standards, portability of visas so that workers may change jobs, and the right to join unions and have full labor and civil rights protections.”

(Change to Win Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform)

Pro-business organizations have been skeptical about the use of a commission, and predictably are advocating for the free market to decide these immigration levels. The American Immigration Lawyers Association, (an organization that my wife Patricia is a member of), disagrees with my position: “The idea for a standing commission on immigration and labor markets remains too amorphous conceptually. Sufficient oversight and enforcement of current labor protections must be a critical goal, but such a commission would add a layer of national-level determinations of local labor market needs. This would make the system more complex rather than simplifying a process that is burdensome for employers in need. Labor data available through U.S. government sources is updated only every two years. It is backward looking and not equipped to assess our current and future needs. Before any type of commission could work, we need to develop an effective, real-time measurement of the evolving needs of business and the U.S. economy. Otherwise, any determinations made by such a Commission will be outdated almost before they can be implemented.” (AILA Position Statement on Business Immigration Reform Principles)

I respectfully disagree with AILA. While I appreciate their concerns, I believe that we do have the 21st century forecasting ability to address this issue with much more oversight than the free market. It all depends and goes back to how we set this for success. AILA and business leaders are concerned about regional forecasting. Why not include the Federal Reserve in the commission? They have district banks all over the country that have top economists and statisticians that work to put together data and projections on job creation or loss, as well as business trends already, in their effort to set and predict the proper interest rates to charge banks to control inflation. They can easily provide this input to the commission.

We will have a small army of enforcement personnel and inspectors, as well as detailed, up to date, and complete job data on employment positions in the United States through the new CIR, (through e-verify or some other verification project). Why not use these people and this data as part of a greater job creation forecasting and trending tool? Don’t tell me that we can’t figure out how to forecast the need for new immigration levels. We just have to be smart enough to evaluate the data that we already will have from several sources.

There exists another and greater urgency toward the need to get this forecasting done accurately, and the free market has done a poor job of this to date. There have been academic studies done recently that have concluded that there is an important correlation between low and high skilled immigration levels, and the outsourcing of U.S. jobs if these levels do not balance properly: “In particular, it is shown that an influx of low skilled immigrants reduces the need for firms to offshore low skilled jobs. However, high skilled immigration will increase offshoring since the relatively limited supply of domestic low skilled workers forces firms to shift low skilled production activities abroad.”

In other words, when new high skilled immigrants are employed as engineers or product developers, it creates a production need. If there are not enough low skilled laborers to fill this production void, the entire production facility gets shifted overseas to places that do have available labor to fit the production needs. Therefore, once our economy recovers, and we are back to normal employment levels, it will necessitate that we forecast accurate immigration needs for BOTH high skilled and low skilled immigrants, to maximize our economic growth, and minimize the trend of outsourcing of the manufacturing jobs that our so vital to a healthy industrial economy.

I realize that my advocating for greater, and not less bureaucracy as part of CIR probably makes me the most unpopular advocate in the room. I don’t care, because I know that I am right about this. There are several stages of discussion that are required to get the new CIR legislation put together and passed. However, before we skip to the politics of “how do we pass this bill?” we cannot gloss over the nuts and bolts infrastructure of exactly how this new CIR will be constructed and managed. If the final 1,000 or so page bill is not carefully woven together so that all of the parts mesh together, then we are setting ourselves up for what will perhaps be defeat, and most assuredly will be failure.

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