Chairman of the House’s Homeland Security Committee Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) released a statement attacking the Trump administration’s expanded executive order barring incoming guestworkers in the H-1B, H-2B, J-1, and L-1 programs from coming to the United States. Rep. Thompson is a frequent critic of the President, particularly when it comes to immigration.
Rep. Thompson vowed to do his best to stop the implementation of the President’s executive order, charging that:
Once again the Trump Administration is using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to further extreme anti-immigrant policies. Stopping immigrants from legally coming to this country serves no real economic or public health purpose and will only serve to pander to President Trump’s base and the extreme right in the lead up to the presidential election. In fact, this new policy will only serve to damage economic recovery in the long term and hurt our ability to attract top talent.
The Chairman’s comments deserve some scrutiny. First, this new order does not stop any legal immigrants from coming to the country. This order deals only with temporary guest workers, who are by definition nonimmigrants. Even if they came to the U.S. in normal times, eventually they must all go home. President Trump’s original April 22 order did bar some employment-based immigrant categories, but it affects less than 10 percent of all potential permanent immigrants.
Chairman Thompson claims that “stopping (non)immigrants from legally coming to this country serves no real economic or public health purpose.” This is false. The United States is the current epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic with nearly 121,000 confirmed deaths out of a world total of 478,000. There is clearly a health purpose to stopping or slowing forms of migration, for the safety of both the guest workers themselves and Americans. Mexico, where most H-2B workers come from, continues to experience a growing number of COVID-19 cases. Industries that rely on guest workers, such as meatpacking plants, are coronavirus hotspots.
There is also an economic purpose to pausing guestworker programs. The country’s unemployment rate increased from 3.5 percent in February to 13.3 percent in May. The rate peaked in April at 14.7 percent, the highest since the Great Depression. As the president’s order indicates, 17 million Americans lost jobs in industries that typically hire H-2B and J-1workers, including some of the hardest-hit sectors such as restaurants and other entertainment venues. More than 20 million workers lost jobs in industries that hire H-1B and L-1 workers.
More than 40 million American workers remain unemployed. Stopping the importation of hundreds of thousands of new guest workers may seem like a drop in the ocean compared to that figure, but it is clearly a step that the Federal government can take right now to alleviate the economic suffering of households across the country. Preventing the hiring of temporary guest workers means that American companies and employers may have to look to hire Americans in permanent positions, strengthening the economic recovery as a whole and returning economic stability to households and communities.
Finally, Chairman Thompson claims that this “new policy will only serve to damage economic recovery in the long term and hurt our ability to attract top talent.” There is no evidence that restricting entry-level white-collar workers (H-1B and L-1), non-skilled labor (H-2B), and cultural exchange workers (J-1) will “damage” our economy. In fact, the opposite may happen as American workers fill roles that employers would otherwise fill with temporary and often cheaper labor.
Coronavirus-related migration pauses will hardly stop America from attracting top talent. In fact, a proposed rule change governing H-1B issuance would increasingly attract only the most talented workers in the highest-earning fields by replacing the H-1B lottery with a system that gives away the 85,000 capped visas to the 85,000 certifications with the highest salaries. If anything, that will ensure that only the best and brightest earn H-1B visas, reflecting the original vision for the program to bring exceptionally-talented foreign workers to the United States.
A majority of American voters support President Trump’s actions to limit immigration and protect immigration during the coronavirus crisis. Chairman Thompson’s attacks on this latest executive proclamation simply reflect his long-standing animus to any immigration-related executive action coming out of the Trump administration.