COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - May 18, 2006)
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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I approach this part of the debate on a critical piece of legislation with due caution. I say that because of my respect for my colleagues from Arizona and from the State of Texas and the work they have done as members of the Judiciary Committee and the due diligence they have always put into this critical issue.
I believe there is a component missing from this debate that speaks to the need for this country to be in a continual and progressive mode of training and shaping a permanent stable workforce.
Unlike all of the demographic studies of the last decade or two, there is something upon us as a nation that we have never experienced before. I am a 1945 baby. I am 60 years old. I am just 1 year ahead of a great class of people--77 million Americans--called baby boomers. They, similar to myself, because of their age, will soon be leaving the American workforce. There are demographic studies out there today which suggest that if we are to sustain a 3.5- to 4- percent growth economy, we have to have about 500,000 new, non-U.S. citizen workers in our workforce on an annual basis.
Yes, we will have ups and downs in the economy. We always have. But in the last downtrend we had, in the final days of the Clinton administration and the early days of the Bush administration, it was about 3.5 million in the downturn before it came back. In the 5.2 million jobs created since that time, one-third of them have been claimed by foreign nationals. It speaks to an economic growth pattern that now requires for the first time in our history a sustained, incoming, trainable, and permanent workforce of the kind that the American citizen, by birthrate, is not providing.
If we deny that as a country, if we create instability as a country, we deny ourselves the ability to continue to grow. And if we do not grow, this Senate is going to be faced with public policy decisions we are not yet brave enough to make: Social Security reform, Medicare reform, Medicaid reform--all of those things which, without a sustained economic growth cycle, become phenomenally expensive and maybe unaffordable.
That does not sound like part of the debate that would tie itself to the Kyl-Cornyn amendment, but I suggest it does. I suggest it behooves this country to create a legal transparent immigration system with a secured border that allows America's employers to train and sustain a permanent workforce, a constantly growing permanent workforce, because the American, by birth, is no longer going to do that. It is the nature of our country. It is the maturity of our country. It is, in fact, the wealth of our country. That is, in part, what all of this debate is about.
Americans said: Get your borders secured and get the illegal flow under control; identify them, control them. That is what we are trying to do.
I do not believe that a constant temporary environment is a stable environment. For those who work for long periods of time and get a green card, does it mean they will become a citizen? No, it does not. Does it mean they are eligible? In this bill, it says: Yes, if you go to the end of the line and apply, and that is 6 years, another 5 years, that is 11 years, and it goes on and on.
I don't believe this is an appropriate amendment to this bill. There is enough temporariness to the bill itself by the nature of H-2A's, H-2B's and H-2C's, and that is written in. There has to be some stability of permanency. That is critical to the American economic scene and to the stability of America's workforce. And even in that, we will have the down cycles that the Senator from Arizona talks about. I am not sure at that point, when trained workers are at hand and have supplied the American economy with its growth, that you say: The lights are out, leave the country.
Somehow, we have to balance that out. That is what we are attempting to do. That is why tonight I ask my colleagues to oppose the Kyl-Cornyn amendment.
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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, I thank the Senator for bringing this issue before the Senate. Yesterday the Senator from Nevada and I were in attendance at a hearing of the Armed Services Committee chaired by Senator Warner, with the Secretary of the Army, the Chief of the National Guard, the lieutenant general of the Army, and the Chief of the Border Patrol. What we saw was the coming together of a complete unit, a complete unit to secure our border and build an orderly process on the border.
What the Senator from Nevada speaks to tonight is a reality that is very doable, and it is done in the normal activity of the summer training of our Guard. The Senator knows that we are not putting Guardsmen out on the front lines. They will facilitate those of the Border Patrol who are the frontline officers in this defensive securing mechanism that we will call the southwestern border of our country.
So I thank the Senator for bringing this to the floor. It is critical and important. It fits well into what our President has proposed, responsibly so, for our country.
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Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, the hour is late. I know those at the desk, including the Chair, would like to dim the lights and say good evening. I will do that in just a few moments.
We are going to have an opportunity to debate in detail what the Senator from Georgia has put before the Senate as it relates to a wage rate for agricultural workers that is embodied within the bill that is before us in comprehensive immigration reform.
I must tell you that after having worked on the agriculture portion of this bill for nearly 5 years, and as a farmer and rancher, I totally agree with the Senator from Georgia, that those who were under the H-2A program and those who weren't were very different, and those who weren't were placing the farmer-producer who had adhered to the H-2A program at a true competitive disadvantage because of the adverse effect wage rate that the Senator spoke to.
As we work to reform and change the character of the H-2A program, and for those Senators who aren't quite aware of that--that is the agricultural portion--we recognize that the adverse affect wage was out of step. It was skewed in large part by comparative and competitive disadvantaged margins that the Senator speaks to. The Senator has proposed moving to a prevailing wage, which, in my opinion, is in itself a minimum wage.
Let me make those points. What the Senator from Georgia has failed to suggest is after an examination of the adverse effect wage rate and recognizing the problems, we changed it dramatically. We said let's freeze it at the 2003 level, January 1, which is actually the 2002 level, and keep it flat for 3 years while we adjust the agricultural workplace into a true prevailing wage.
That is what the bill does. Let me show you what I believe the effects are. I will go into those in more detail on Monday because they are significant, and in many instances what the bill does for American agriculture is better than what the Senator from Georgia is proposing.
It causes us to focus on what is appropriate and right in bringing about equity and balance in the agricultural workforce and in that wage rate.
In 2006, the adverse effect wage rate was $8.63 an hour. This bill drops it to $8.19. In 2010, $10.25 and drops it to $9.06, and many examples on a State-by-State basis drop it more than that. But more than dropping the wage rate down and bringing equity in it, we bring equity in a sense by going in and looking at it and making sure that we effectively change the indices, immediately upon the enactment of the agriculture portion known as AgJOBS of this bill.
In California, the wage rate will drop by 11 percent; in New Hampshire, 13 percent; South Carolina, 13 percent; Montana, 12 percent; Pennsylvania, 16 percent.
I wish the Senator would check his numbers. The numbers he talks about tonight are not prevailing wage. That is minimum wage. And minimum wage will not stand. That is something we are all going to have to look at as we focus on the Chambliss amendment to see if those numbers are truly accurate. I am not in any way suggesting the Senator is wrong, but I am suggesting those who did the research used the Nation's lowest indices possible. I challenge those numbers. It is appropriate to do so.
By 2016, the average farm wage is projected to be $12.81 but the projected adverse effect wage is $10 or down 17.5 percent below the average farm wage if we look at those kinds of indices. It is important we understand we are proposing significant changes in the wage rate and in the market.
The Senator is suggesting, and appropriately so, embodied within adverse effected wage were a variety of other things that agricultural producers had to supply, in some instances, housing, or housing certificates, and other types of amenities at the workplace. That will still happen, whether it is a transitional blue card employment force or an H2-A force because, clearly, once we have transitioned the modified and reformed H2-A program embodied within the bill before the Senate, will be the effective guest worker law portion of it dealing specifically with agriculture.
Agriculture is a different workforce. And it is a different wage scale. We know that.
Had the Senator embodied within it the advantage of piecework, the adverse effect wage rate does that. Do you know some workers who are getting $7 an hour, if they work piecework, get $12 an hour? It is their advantage to do is. There is a higher level of productivity when you bring them all to a common denominator that goes away. There are a variety of things that are critically important to look at.
I do not mean to suggest in any way that the numbers offered were offered in an untruthful way but the numbers that were provided to the offeror are the lowest common denominator at a minimum wage rate and not the 50th medium talked about by the Department of Labor in their analysis and in the establishment of an appropriate wage rate that would be a true prevailing wage rate.
I want a prevailing wage rate. That is what the bill proposes, a transitional pattern of time, a 3-year pattern of time with a frozen adverse effect wage rate, to move us to prevailing. The Farm Bureau asserts that the prevailing crop wage in Ohio ranges from $5.85 to $7.13 an hour. They compare this to the wage rate of $8.38 per hour which would apply during the AgJOBS wage freeze. Those are the kind of numbers that were being offered this evening. However, the medium hourly wage, which would be the prevailing wage under the amendment before the Senate, was $8.57 for crop workers in Ohio in the data sourced by the Farm Bureau.
I am still digging into the numbers because I cannot quite understand it. There is a disparity that is troublesome if we are to arrive at a fair, responsible, and accurate measurement to establish an effective prevailing wage that is fair to the worker, but more importantly, and as importantly, fair to the producer so that we get out of this competitive disadvantage the Senator from Georgia has recognized and sees as critically important.
In other words, if this data source represented agriculture prevailing wage, which in my opinion it does not, the prevailing crop rates I mentioned for Ohio would be at least 19 cents an hour higher than the AgJOBS minimum wage even in 2006 before we tamp it down in the law. The projected Ohio prevailing crop wage in 2010, based on the data source, would be $10.33 per hour compared to the AgJOBS minimum wage of $9.29.
In all sincerity, I offer to the Senator from Georgia a time for us to look at numbers and do some comparisons. There is a disparity. I know what the bill does because the bill is accurately and effectively represented in these charts because we knew what the effected adverse wage was going to be, and there is a very clear projection line. What we do not know are the indices given and provided as it relates to the Chambliss amendment.
I will spend the weekend looking at it and looking at those numbers. They do concern me. It is important we get it right, not that we want to treat anyone in a disadvantaged way, but what we do has to be accurate, it has to create stability, it has to take away the competitive disadvantage the Senator from Georgia is talking about, that is real today in this disparity between those H-2A workers and, if you will, the undocumented workers out there in the American workforce that the provision of the bill that deals with agriculture attempts to get its arms around and legalize through the blue card transition period the Senator and I have spoken to.
It is a very important part of the bill. Both the Senator from Georgia and I have been concerned for some time and have compared numbers about an American agricultural work base built on a faulty employment base. You cannot be working 75 percent undocumented workers and be wholly dependent upon them to bring the perishable crop to the market and then have them swept out from under you.
Yet we also know that when there is 1.2 to 1.5 million people in the American agricultural workforce that are foreign nationals, yet annually, the H-2A as a program only effectively identifies 42,000 to 45,000, something was and is dramatically wrong. That is why the Senator is here with his amendment. That is why I am here with a major reform package within the bill. We both agree that the wage part of this is skewed. That is why we rolled it back dramatically and we are proposing establishing a prevailing wage. And he has proposed a prevailing wage.
We have to get the numbers right. I disagree with his numbers. It is important that in the effort to bring stability and equity we get them right.
I hope the Senate would get the Chambliss amendment, stay with the freeze that is actually the 2002 wage scale for 3 years, while we get the numbers right as it relates to the effective establishment of a prevailing wage.
In the end, I would argue that during that period of time we have substantially lessened the competitive disadvantage and improved the overall wage base for agricultural workers in a sense of equity and balance.
We will be back to this amendment, I understand, Monday afternoon to debate it before a vote on Monday evening at 5:30. It is a challenge for all of us. More than one Senator over the course of the last week has said this is a very complicated bill. And the area that Senator Chambliss and I have ventured into is a very complicated portion of the bill.
I know what the bill does because I helped write it and spent a good number of years attempting to negotiate it. I am yet to clearly understand what I believe the Senator from Georgia is attempting to do as to the accuracy of his numbers and what they would mean on a State-by-State basis based on the indices he proposes to be used if this were to become law.
I yield the floor.
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