McKeon Opening Statement: Guest Worker Programs / Committee Hearing
Hearing on "Protecting U.S. and Guest Workers: the Recruitment and Employment of Temporary Foreign Labor"
Thank you, Chairman Miller, for convening this morning's hearing, and I thank each of our witnesses for joining us today. I look forward to your testimony.
Last year, this panel held a series of hearings on the subject of illegal immigration, and I am pleased we are continuing our participation in the ongoing debate on this topic - a debate that is raging not just on the Senate side of Capitol Hill, but here in the House and in communities throughout our nation as well. One of those communities is my hometown: the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita.
Southern California is the epicenter of the immigration debate, so this hearing hits home for me, both literally and figuratively. Last week, when I returned home for the Memorial Day recess, this topic was on the minds of just about everyone I visited with - from business and government leaders to local press and rank-and-file constituents. So, I come to this hearing - first and foremost - as someone who understands the unique challenges faced by those most directly impacted by illegal immigration and issues associated with it.
I also come to this hearing as a former small business owner, acutely aware of many of the staffing and employee benefits issues employers face each and every day. As such, I understand how and why an expansion of guest worker programs - a topic of today's hearing - would be embraced by many in the employer community. It would more directly avail them of a new pool of workers - in a supposedly organized, orderly, and legal way.
However, while I recognize the views of those who favor an expansion of guest worker programs - particularly programs in agriculture, which Chairman Miller and I both know is as important to California's economy as it is anywhere else in our nation - I am not convinced that we can find a workable solution to our illegal immigration crisis without addressing border security first. While some see such an expansion as a pathway to citizenship, I instead see it as a slippery slope toward amnesty. And I believe history - in particular, the ramifications of the 1986 immigration law - bears that out.
The immigration law Congress passed in 1986 asked for us to secure the border and put in place a reliable employer verification system. Twenty-one years later, this still has not been done. This was made crystal clear to me about a year ago, when I had the opportunity to tour the U.S.-Mexico border near San Diego. Though we have made advances in our ability to stop illegal immigrants as they cross the border, especially since my previous visit to the border a few years earlier, the illegals and their smugglers have made advances as well. And as a result - for lack of a better phrase - it's a warlike atmosphere down there.
That visit, more than anything else, convinced me that we simply cannot tackle this issue without first prioritizing border enforcement. It's an economic security priority, and it's a homeland security priority. And it simply is not prudent to expand or add further programs as part of a new effort until we address what's still left unresolved. Just as in the last Congress, when we first held hearings on this important issue, we wouldn't be here today if not for the debate over how to best get a firm grip on our borders - and how that debate is playing out in the halls of Congress and at kitchen tables across the nation.
With that being said, existing guest worker programs do play a vital role in our economy and in our strategy on illegal immigration. That's why I am so pleased to have before us today a balanced and diverse panel of witnesses, who will offer us testimony on guest worker programs - their past, their present, and their future. Again, I look forward to gathering valuable input from them, as our Committee fulfills its responsibility to engage in this critical debate. And I thank them for being here.