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Public Statements

Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act--Continued--

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. SANDERS. Mr. President, let me congratulate Senator McCain for all of his hard work in the Gang of 8 and his focus on border security, which is an enormously important issue.

As the son of an immigrant--my dad came to this country at the age of 17 from Poland--I strongly support the concept of immigration reform, and I applaud the Judiciary Committee and all of those people who have been working hard on this legislation.

There are a lot of provisions within this bill that I think should be strongly supported by the American people.

I strongly support a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country. Bringing undocumented workers out of the shadows and giving them legal status will make it more difficult, among many other things, for employers to undercut the wages and benefits of all workers and will be good for our entire economy--a very important step forward.

I strongly support the DREAM Act to make sure the children of illegal immigrants who were brought into this country by their parents years ago are allowed to become citizens.

I strongly support providing legal status to foreign workers on family farms. Dairy farmers in Vermont and the owners of apple orchards in my State have told me that without these workers, they would go out of business, and it is obviously true in many parts of this country.

We also need to make sure, as Senator McCain has just elaborated, that our borders are more secure and prevent unscrupulous employers from hiring those who have come here illegally.

All of those provisions are extremely important, are included in the legislation passed out of the Judiciary Committee last week, and are provisions I support. I commend my colleague from Vermont Senator Pat Leahy for his leadership on those issues. But let me tell you some of what concerns me very much about the bill as it presently stands.

At a time when nearly 14 percent of the American people do not have a full-time job, at a time when the middle class continues to disappear, and at a time when tens of millions of Americans are working longer hours for lower wages, it makes no sense to me that the immigration reform bill includes a massive increase in temporary guest worker programs that will allow large corporations to import and bring into this country hundreds of thousands of temporary blue-collar and white-collar guest workers from overseas. That makes no sense to me.

I am particularly concerned that at a time when college is becoming increasingly unaffordable--and every parent out there with a high school kid is worried about how that family is going to afford college for their kids--at a time when young people desperately need jobs to help pay for the cost of a college education, this bill will make it more difficult for young Americans to find the jobs they need.

Today, youth unemployment is over 16 percent, and the teen unemployment rate is over 25 percent. Unfortunately, many of the jobs that used to be performed by young Americans are now being done by foreign college students through the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program and the H-2B guest worker program.

Millions of Americans, including myself--and I suspect many Members of Congress--earned money when they were young at summer jobs or at part-time jobs when they were in college in order to pay for the cost of college. Some Americans today are working as waiters and waitresses. They are working as lifeguards. They are working as front-desk clerks at hotels and resorts. They are working as ski instructors, as cooks, chefs, kitchen personnel, chambermaids, landscapers, and many other similar jobs. And there is nothing any American has to be embarrassed about at working at any of those jobs or any other job in order to earn some income to pay the bills or to make some money in order to afford to go to college. There is nothing anybody should be ashamed about doing that kind of work. What I worry about very much is the degree to which those jobs will be available for young Americans as a result of the J-1 program and the H-2B program.

It pains me very deeply that with minority unemployment extraordinarily high--I was just in Detroit last week talking to kids who are working so hard, and they are working for $7.25 an hour at McDonald's or other fast food places--if they are lucky enough to get that work. Many of them would like to go to college but are unable to earn the money they need in order to go to college. It seems to me terribly wrong that we have programs such as this J-1 Summer Work Travel Program which brings students from all over the world into the United States to take jobs that young Americans want to do.

The J-1 program for foreign college students is supposed to be--is supposed to be--used as a cultural exchange program, a program to bring young people into this country to learn about our way of life, our customs, and to support international cooperation and understanding. Those are extremely important goals. I believe in that passionately. When I was mayor of the city of Burlington, we started sister-city programs with towns around the world in order to develop that type of understanding and cooperation. That is the theory of what the J-1 program is supposed to be, and a wonderful goal it is.

Unfortunately, that is not what it is today. Today the J-1 program has morphed into a low-wage jobs program to allow corporations such as Hershey's and McDonald's and many others to replace young American workers with cheaper labor from abroad. Each and every year companies from all over this country are hiring more than 100,000 foreign college students in low-wage jobs through the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program.

Unlike other guest worker programs, the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program does not require businesses to recruit American workers for these positions, offer jobs to willing and able Americans first, or to pay prevailing wages. In other words, if there are jobs out there that our young people would like to get in order to put aside a few bucks or help pay for the cost of a college education, the employer is not obliged to reach out to these young Americans. It is one thing for an employer to say: Look, I reached out, tried to get some young people to do this job, could not find them, and I had to go abroad. I can understand that. But that is not the requirement of this J-1 program.

Let me read from a Web site of a foreign labor recruiter touting the benefits of using the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program to employers in the United States. This Web site is called jobofer.org. This is one, as I understand it, of many. But here is what it says. I quote from the Web site jobofer.org. This is going to employers who need unskilled workers for the summer.

Whether you are running an amusement park, a water park, a concessions stand, a golf club, a circus, a zoo, or anything else where people come to enjoy themselves, it's a great idea not to miss the opportunities of the season and hire international seasonal workers to cover your growing staffing needs.

International seasonal workers.

Jobofer.org has experience in matching candidates from foreign exchange students with amusement firms all over the USA, covering every type of entry level position you may want to cover with seasonal staffing.

The Work And Travel USA program allows exchange students from abroad to work in the US for up to 4 months during the buzz season under a J1 visa.

Jobofer.org is committed to understanding your needs as an amusement business and handling all the seasonal staffing procedures for you, at absolutely no cost. Check out the list of positions typically filled with international exchange students .....

Now, what this Web site is doing is telling employers--in this case, they are just focusing on amusement parks, but obviously it goes much beyond that into all kinds of resorts, many other areas--but what they are simply saying is that we need unskilled labor.

One knows that historically in this country that is what young people did. When you were in high school, when you were in college, you would try to make a few bucks. You go out and you get a summer job. Maybe you could earn a couple of thousand dollars. Maybe it starts you on a career or maybe it is money to put aside to go to college. I did it. Many Members of the Senate did it. Millions of young people in this country want to do it.

What these companies are saying is: You do not need to hire kids in your community anymore. You do not have to reach out to minority kids who desperately need a job, to kids in Vermont who want to put away a few bucks to go to college. You do not have to do that anymore. We will help you bring in young people from all over the world to do those jobs.

One of the arguments we hear on the floor is we need highly skilled workers because high-tech companies cannot attract the scientists and the engineers and the physicists and the mathematicians they need. When we bring them in, these guys are going to help create jobs in America. Maybe. That is a whole other issue for discussion. But nobody can tell me we need to bring young people from all over the world to work at entry-level jobs because there are not young Americans who want to do that job, when the unemployment rate of young people in this country is extraordinarily high. Nobody with a straight face can make that claim.

Here are some of the jobs being advertised on this very same Web site. There are many Web sites like it. This one focuses on jobs within the amusement industry: Ride operators/attendants, game operators, food service--flipping hamburgers--lifeguard. I guess we have no young people in America who are capable of being lifeguards. Nobody in America can swim and get a job as a lifeguard. I guess we need to bring people from all over the world to be lifeguards. Guest relations, admissions, security, games and attractions, merchandise, grounds quality, season pass processor, entertainment wardrobe, warehouse, safari gatekeepers and wardens, parking lot attendant. I guess nobody in America could be a parking lot attendant. Landscape, cash control.

Here is the interesting point. The Web site, after mentioning all of those jobs specific to the amusement industry, asks the following questions: What happens--interesting question. What happens when you use seasonal employment for your theme or amusement park? Here is the answer this foreign labor recruiter gives on its Web site:

You cover your seasonal staffing needs with young, highly motivated, English-speaking international staff from 18 to 28 years old and cut costs by paying fewer taxes.

Got that? You can bring in international workers, students from abroad, and one of the advantages you have is you pay lower taxes on that foreign worker than you do for an American worker.

In fact, under the J-1 Summer Work Travel Program, employers do not have to pay Medicare, Social Security, and unemployment taxes, which amounts to a payroll savings of about 8.45 percent per employee. What a bargain. So we are enticing--we are giving an incentive to a company to bring foreign workers into this country and saving them money by hiring foreign workers at the expense of young Americans who certainly can do those jobs.

Under the J-1 program, employers do not have to pay Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. They do not have to pay unemployment taxes. They do not have to offer jobs to Americans first. They do not have to pay wages that are comparable to what American workers make. What employer in America would want to hire a young American as a lifeguard or a ski instructor or a waiter or a waitress, or any other low-skilled job, when they can hire a foreign college student instead at a significant reduction in cost?

I understand the immigration reform bill we are debating reforms this program by requiring foreign labor recruiters to pay a $500 fee for every foreign college student they bring into this country. Right now, foreign college students bear all of these costs. But in my opinion, that is not good enough. This program is a real disservice to the young people in this country.

I believe in cultural exchanges. I would put a lot more money into cultural exchanges so our young people can go abroad, so young people from all over the world could attend our high schools. That would be a great thing. But that is not what this J-1 program is. It is a program which is displacing young American workers at a time of double-digit unemployment among youth, and it is putting downward pressure on wages at a time when the American people are in many cases working longer hours for lower wages.

In my opinion, this particular program should be abolished. Cultural program, yes; but bringing in young people to take jobs from young Americans, no. At the very least, if we are not going to abolish this program, we need to make sure we have a comparable summer and year-round jobs program for our young people in order to help them pay for college and to move up the economic ladder. At the very least, that is what should be in this bill.

That is why I will be filing an amendment today to the immigration reform bill to create a youth jobs program. My amendment would provide States with $1.5 billion in immediate funding to support a 2-year summer and year-round jobs program for low-income youth and economically disadvantaged young adults. This amendment is modeled on the summer and year-round youth jobs program included in President Obama's American Jobs Act.

This amendment would build on the success from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided $1.2 billion in funding for the WIA Youth Jobs Program. This program created over 374,000 summer job opportunities during 2009 and 2010 for young Americans who desperately needed those jobs. This amendment, in fact, would create even more jobs.

Let me be very clear. The same corporations and businesses that support a massive expansion in guest worker programs are opposed to raising the minimum wage. They have long supported the outsourcing of American jobs. They have reduced wages and benefits of American workers at a time when corporate profits are at an all-time high. In too many cases, the H-2B program for lower skilled guest workers and the H-1B for high-skilled guest workers are being used by employers to drive down the wages and benefits of American workers and to replace American workers with cheap labor from abroad.

The immigration reform bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee could increase the number of

low-skilled guest workers by as much as 800 percent over the next 5 years and could more than triple the number of temporary white-collar guest workers coming into this country. That is the basic issue. That is my basic concern. At a time when unemployment is so high, does it make a whole lot of sense to be bringing hundreds of thousands of workers from all over the world into this country to fill jobs American workers desperately need?

The high-tech industry tells us they need the H-1B program so they can hire the best and the brightest science, technology, engineering, and math workers in the world, and that there are not enough qualified American workers in these fields. In some cases--let me be very honest--I think that is true. I think there are some companies in some parts of the country that are unable to attract American workers to do the jobs that are needed. I believe in those instances, corporations should have the right to bring in foreign workers so the corporation can do the business it is supposed to be doing.

But having said that, let me also tell you some facts: In 2010, 54 percent of the H-1B guest workers were employed in entry-level jobs and performed ``routine tasks requiring limited judgment,'' according to the Government Accountability Office. Routine tasks.

So when a lot of my friends here talk about high-tech workers, they are talking about scientists, they are talking about all of these guys who are doing a great job, but that is not necessarily the case. Only 6 percent of H-1B visas were given to workers with highly specialized skills in 2010, according to the GAO. More than 80 percent of H-1B guest workers are paid wages that are less than American workers in comparable positions, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Over 9 million Americans have degrees in a STEM-related field, but only about 3 million have a job in one. Last year, the top 10 employers of H-1B guest workers were all offshore outsourcing companies. These firms are responsible for shipping large numbers of American information technology jobs to India and other countries. Half of all recent college graduates majoring in computer and information science in the United States did not receive jobs in the information technology sector. So it seems to me this is an issue we have got to deal with.

The second amendment I will be filing today is with Senators GRASSLEY and HARKIN. That amendment would prohibit companies that have announced mass layoffs over the past year from hiring guest workers unless these companies can prove their overall employment will not be reduced as a result of these mass layoffs. In other words, what we are seeing is a very clear trend. Large corporations are throwing American workers out on the street, and they are bringing in foreign workers to do those very same jobs.

Many of those very same companies have moved parts of their corporate world away from the United States into Third World countries. So this continues the attack on American workers. We must stop it.

Let me give you a few examples as I conclude my remarks. In 2012, Hewlett-Packard, one of the large American corporations, announced it was laying off 30,000 workers at the same time it hired more than 660 H-1B guest workers. In 2012, Cisco laid off 1,300 employees at the same time it hired more than 330 H-1B guest workers. In 2012, Yahoo hired more than 135 H-1B guest workers at the same time it announced it was laying off over 2,000 workers. Research in Motion hired 24 H-1B guest workers at the same time it laid off over 5,000 people.

I think it makes no sense at all that corporations that are laying off American workers are now reaching into the H-1B program to bring in foreign workers.

Let me conclude by saying there is much in this legislation I support and that I believe the American people support. But problems remain. Problems remain. The main problem to me is this guest worker concept which is being widely abused by employers throughout this country. At the very least, I want to see a summer jobs program for our kids who are now losing jobs because of the J-1 program. But we need to do even more than that.

I look forward to working with my colleagues who have worked so hard on this bill to make it a bill that all Americans and all working people can be supportive of.

I yield the floor.

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