I have searched the web sites of the two organizations of which you are respectively chairmen, The American Cause and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, and I find only brief, wholly inadequate and misleading mention, at the latter site only, of current pending legislation which has the potential to induce the biggest wave of illegal immigration to this country that we have yet seen. I speak of amendment 3258 of S. 2260, a measure which would greatly and unconscionably liberalize the already heavily-abused agricultural guestworker program known as H-2A. The provision quietly passed the Senate on July 23, 1998, by a vote of 68-31-1, with not a single Republican senator in opposition.
I note further on your web sites the great alarm you expressed over the expansion of the similar, but much smaller-scale, limited H-1B program for foreign high-technology workers. Obviously you are greatly concerned over the effect on our country of expanded immigration, both legal and illegal, but your reaction to H-1B versus your non-reaction to H-2A, unless something is escaping my attention that no one has yet pointed out to me, seems to me to amount to straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel.
I have telephoned you and sent you e-mails in my capacity as columnist for the pro-labor publication, The Great Speckled Bird of Atlanta, Georgia, about this matter, but so far neither of you has responded. The great dangers as I saw them at the time I wrote the article are spelled out in "Giant Trampling Sound".
Since writing that article I have learned a few more frightening things. What little opposition there is to the measure in the House is led by the liberal Democrat, Howard Berman, of Los Angeles, California. His legislative director, Bari Schwartz, who is handling the issue, couches the congressman's opposition pretty much along the lines of emphasis described in the statement of the Farmworkers Justice Federation, minus the follow-up e-mail to me spelling out the immigration threat. That is the approach that produced the crushing defeat in the Senate. No coalition with conservative Republicans concerned about immigration seems to have been attempted. I have called the offices of a few such Republicans and have either received no return call after leaving detailed messages or I encounter a complete failure of recognition of the problem.
Further study also suggests to me that the dangers are even worse than outlined in "Giant Trampling Sound." In his e-mail to me, Mr. Goldstein refers to and quotes from an excellent article about the threat by Susan F. Martin that appeared in the August 10, 1998, Washington Times entitled "Just what we need, more illegal immigrants." He fails to reference, however, what I consider to be the key quote of the article: "Those now willing to pay smugglers a hefty fee to reach Los Angeles, Chicago or New York will have a less risky way to gain initial entry into the United States."
That is a very perceptive observation as far as it goes. The fact of the matter is that this is something about which there is no need to speculate. We already have a guest worker program in place under H2-A, and with legal entry so much more desirable than illegal entry, the "hefty fee" that can be demanded to assist illegal entry is already quite hefty for legal, H-2A, entry as confirmed to me by Mr. Goldstein in a phone conversation. The only problem from the would-be immigrants' perspective is that most of them lack the means to pay the fee demanded and are forced to borrow the money at exorbitant rates of interest from unscrupulous lenders. Mr. Goldstein did not take the analysis to the next logical step, but one can imagine that debt hanging over the head of the typical H-2A worker would virtually force many of them to leave relatively low-paying farm work and to "go illegal" into greener pastures in the U.S. economy. The need to pay off the debt as quickly as possible, one can easily imagine, must induce many not just to become illegal immigrants but to engage in lucrative illegal activities.
An anecdote from Ms. Martin further reinforces the conjecture that the demand to become an H-2A worker is far higher than the demand for the services of a smuggler of illegal immigrants. She told me by phone of a gathering in a state of Mexico which has not yet sent many immigrants to the U.S. The group was asked how many had relatives who had worked in the U.S. Only a few hands were raised. They were then asked how many are contemplating going to the U.S. to work. Again, only a few hands were raised. Then they were asked, "What if there were a program that permitted you to work in the U.S. legally? How many of you would then want to go?" They all raised their hands.
But once here, how many stay and become illegal immigrants? Let us
look at the key passage on page 53 of a December 1997 report by the
General Accounting Office entitled "H-2A Agricultural Guestworker
Program, Changes Could Improve Services to Employers and Better Protect
"Officials at INS, which has the responsibility of monitoring
whether visitors overstay their visas, told us that no reliable data
exist on the number of H-2A workers who overstay their visas. As we
reported in 1995, the task of estimating overstays presents a difficult
challenge (See "Illegal Immigration: INS Overstay Estimation Methods
Need Improvement [GAO/PEMD-95-20, Sept. 26, 1995]). INS procedures
require that visitors return the I-94* when they leave the country. It
has a data system for tracking the date when individual foreign visitors
arrive in and depart from the United States. However, the agency cannot
assume that all people whom the system does not record as having left
have, in fact, overstayed their lawful periods of entry because,
according to INS officials, about 70 percent of forms I-94 are not
returned. This is especially true of nonimmigrants who leave the United
States by surface transportation such as automobile or bus, which would
include most H-2A workers. Because no INS employees are inspecting
traffic exiting the country the country at land border crossings, there
is no assurance that the forms I-94 are being submitted."
*The I-94 is an immigration form that does not even require the name of the bearer to appear on it.
What this means in simple English is that the INS has no way of knowing how many H-2A workers stay in this country illegally and how many go back. Of all visitors coming to the country only 30% show they have left by returning their I-94 forms, but of those who leave overland as H-2A workers do, virtually none bother to return these forms because no one stops them and asks them to. Considering, however, the trouble and expense to which such workers have gone to to get into the country and the complete absence of any mechanism to see to it that they go back, it beggars belief that they would docilely go back when the growing season was done, even when their return trip is paid for by the farmers for whom they have worked.
H-2A, then, is nothing more than an open invitation, ripe for criminal abuse, to come to the United States and become an illegal resident. The main limitation on the program at present is at the grower end, but the proposal now in the House of Representatives would sweep away those obstacles. Anyone who can't already hear the giant trampling sound of a new wave of illegal immigrants, it would seem, is one who refuses to listen.
Could you please explain why you are apparently not vigorously opposing this legislation?
THE GREAT SPECKLED BIRD
October 4, 1998
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