Rep. Miller Statement at House Education and the Workforce Committee Hearing on Guest Worker Programs
U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), the senior Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, issued the following statement today at an Education and the Workforce Committee hearing on "Guest Worker Programs: Impact on the American Workforce and U.S. Immigration Policy."
This hearing comes at a time when the rights and living standards of workers in the U.S. are being threatened as they have been at no other time in the postwar history of our country. Workers' wages have stagnated over the last several years; their pension and health benefits are disappearing; and their rights to organize are being constantly eroded. The policies pushed by the Bush administration and the Republican Congress are partly to blame.
The truth is that any discussion about immigration must include a discussion of the fact that American workers are losing ground - and it's not because they don't work hard enough.
The expressed purpose of this hearing is to examine the desirability of enacting a new guest worker program, as President Bush has proposed.
Congress has not comprehensively considered our immigration laws since 1986. At that time, it was estimated that the number of illegal immigrants inside the country was between 2 and 3 million. The Congress acted, on a bipartisan basis, to create an amnesty program for immigrants in the U.S. who met certain conditions, establish new visa programs for legal immigration, and impose sanctions on employers who continued to hire illegal immigrants. Regrettably, the employer sanctions were never seriously enforced.
Illegal immigration started to explode again in the late 1990's as demographic and economic changes, including globalization, NAFTA, and the creation of the World Trade Organization, forced additional immigrants to seek employment and economic opportunities in the U.S.
In recent years, the number of illegal immigrants entering the U.S. each year has approached 500,000. Today, it is estimated that 12 million people are in the U.S. illegally, either without a visa or after having overstayed a visa. Most of these immigrants of working age are employed.
President Bush and the Republican majority have largely ignored this growing problem and in many ways have actively made it worse.
The Bush Administration has cut back on the number of visas available for individuals to arrive legally and increased delay times for individuals who try to play by the rules. It's no surprise that making it harder for people to enter the country legally would make it more likely that they would enter the country illegally.
Until recently, the Bush Administration and Republican Congress also failed to beef up border enforcement. In the 9/11 Act of 2004, they promised to provide 2,000 additional border patrol agents, 8,000 additional detention beds, and 800 additional immigration agents per year. Instead, they have delivered only 800 border patrol agents and 5,000 detention beds, and they are short nearly 1,000 immigration agents.
Between 1999 and 2004, worksite immigration enforcement operations against companies were scaled back 99 percent - 99 percent! - by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which subsequently was merged into the Department of Homeland Security. In 1999, the U.S. initiated fines against 417 companies. In 2004, it issued fine notices to only three.
The Bush administration also has failed miserably to enforce our nation's labor laws and ensure decent working conditions for all workers.
The Wage and Hour Division at the Department of Labor, which enforces minimum wage, overtime, and child labor protections, has seen a 12 percent cut in staffing since 2001, with just one staff person for every 2,800 business establishments. The 2007 appropriation for wage-and-hour law enforcement in the Labor Department spending bill falls $4.1 million short of what even the Bush Administration claims is necessary to maintain current service levels.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has seen an 8 percent cut in staffing since 2001, with one OSHA staff person for every 1,700 business establishments. Its budget has been cut by 3 percent since 2001, adjusted for inflation.
The National Labor Relations Act, which guarantees workers the right to organize and collectively bargain, has extremely weak remedies. As a result, some 22,000 workers are fired or otherwise discriminated against each year for exercising their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
We cannot let globalization or immigration become a race to the bottom. Our labor laws must be strengthened and vigorously enforced to ensure that all workers - old and new - benefit from the strength of our economy. The violation of one worker's rights hurts all workers, regardless of whether that worker is documented or not or U.S.-born or not.
I look forward to the testimony of today's witnesses. I hope we can have an honest and open discussion about our economic and employment needs and how we would need to structure a guest worker or any other program to ensure that it treats all workers fairly and makes our country stronger for all.