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Kennedy on Today's House Immigration Hearing

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Kennedy on Today's House Immigration Hearings

"Temporary worker programs of the past, like the Bracero program, represent a shameful chapter in our history. Bracero workers were exploited by unscrupulous employers, who brutally exploited these workers, by paying them very low wages and forcing them to work in dangerous conditions.

The temporary worker program included in S.2611 rejects the brutal legacy of exploitation that tarnished past programs. Anything less would be a sham and would subject these workers to abuse and undermine the jobs, wages and working conditions of U.S. workers.

The H-2C temporary worker program in S.2611 differs in fundamental ways from the failed approaches of the past. We include strong wage guarantees to ensure that temporary workers will not depress the wages and working conditions of American workers. Temporary workers must be paid at prevailing wages, as defined by the Davis-Bacon Act, the Service Contract Act, collective bargaining agreements, or Department of Labor surveys. These strict wage guarantees ensure immigrants will receive decent pay and will not depress American wages.

Employers will not be able to hire temporary workers to replace US workers. Employers may only hire temporary workers after they spend 60 days attempting to recruit US workers at the prevailing wage being offered.

In contrast with previous guest-worker programs, S.2611 provides strong protections to make sure that guest-workers are not exploited by foreign labor contractors or by hiring themselves out as independent contractors.

All of these wage and recruitment provisions are backed by strong complaint procedures and whistle blower protections, and by 2,000 new Department of Labor worksite inspectors.

We also believe guest-workers must not be tied to a single employer, but must have the right to vote with their feet by changing jobs when employers exploit them. In this way, employers will be forced to offer fair wages and working conditions or risk losing their immigrant labor force.

Temporary workers will be able to join unions, and cannot be hired if the company is in the midst of a labor dispute.

After four years, temporary workers will be able to adjust to legal permanent status without depending on an employer sponsor. This provision also empowers immigrants to look out for themselves and eliminates a major source of exploitation from previous temporary worker programs.

All of these provisions were carefully crafted to protect American workers, and the temporary worker program was included in this bill specifically so that all workers—immigrant and native—would have the right to work with dignity under the full protection of our labor laws.

The Senate bill has created the most labor-friendly temporary workers program in our nation's history. It is good for American workers, which is why it has the active support of major labor unions such as the Service Employees International Union and UNITE-HERE.

The Senate bill also incorporates the AgJOBS bill, which corrects long festering problems in the agriculture sector. The AgJOBS provisions reflect far-reaching and welcome agreement between the United Farm Workers and the agricultural industry that will give farm workers and their families the dignity and justice they deserve, and give agricultural employed a legal workforce.

In addition to providing a fair and reasonable way for undocumented agricultural workers to earn legal status, the AgJOBS provisions also reform the current H-2A temporary visa program, so that employers unable to find American workers can hire needed foreign workers, and these workers will receive the protections they deserve. These changes reach a fair balance. By streamlining the H-2A program's application process, paperwork for employers is reduced and processing times are accelerated. Workers will be able to count on long-standing protections, like the "three-fourths minimum work" guarantee, the "50% rule," transportation cost reimbursement, and most important, the adverse effect wage rate. Anything else would undermine the jobs, wages, and working conditions of U.S. workers.

For too long, we tolerated illegal immigration because it seemed to be a win-win exchange: employers and consumers were given access to cheap labor and low-cost goods and services; but Congress was not required to make politically difficult decisions about expanding legal low-skilled immigration.

For too long, we turned a blind eye to the plight of the strangers in our midst, and ignored the large number of immigrant workers seeking to support their families and forced to endure deplorable conditions or risk deportation. We failed to take sensible steps to give temporary workers - which our economy continues to need - the avenues needed to work legally in the United States.

Instead of confronting these serious problems, Congress continued bankrupt policies, building more fences, stationing more immigration agents at the U.S.-Mexican border, and restricting legal avenues of entry into the United States. But these enforcement tools have not quenched employers' thirst for immigrant workers. Instead, enforcement-only approaches have driven immigrants farther into the desert, dramatically increasing the number of migrant deaths due to expose or violence.

Much has now changed since 9/11. The terrorist attacks remind us that undocumented immigration is a serious threat to our national security. The vast majority of those seeking to work in our country are honest and hard-working, but our national security requires us to identify and monitor those who are not.

Labor and business alike now demand a system in which workers' rights are respected and in which workers are no longer vulnerable to deportation. The continuing health of the American economy demands a system in which all of these workers join the formal labor force and pay their taxes.

The Senate temporary worker programs are fair and will provide foreign nationals with a legal way to come and work in the United States. They will significantly reduce reliance on smugglers, fraudulent documents, and violence at the border. They will also improve our ability to enforce our immigration laws, safeguard our borders, crack down on criminal activity, and protect our national security.

I urge my House colleagues to support these long-needed reforms to deal with urgent and dangerous problems for our national security and to improve the lives and working conditions of all workers."

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