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Immigration Update - Feb. 16, 2012

Over the past few weeks, the Obama administration has reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring our laws work for all of the people. A recent regulation change by the Department of Labor may not make the headlines, but it will ensure that our laws are not abused to discriminate against a specific group, particularly immigrants. This change is a crucial element in addressing concerns raised by others in opposition to immigration reform.

H2-B Final Rule Fair to Both Immigrants and U.S. Workers

Next week, the Department of Labor will publish a Final Rule that will work to ensure the dignity of both nonagricultural American and immigrant workers. Employers and labor unions have noted the various flaws in the current H-2B guest worker visa program. These new regulations will protect vulnerable immigrants who are often exploited in the current system and open job access for U.S. workers. In addition, immigrant guest workers will be able to receive the basic services their American coworkers have.

Key provisions announced by Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis include:

  • In the past, employers were not held accountable in their search for U.S. workers. They could simply state that they could not find U.S. workers to fill a position. The employer could then hire an immigrant worker and pay them a lower rate with fewer benefits. Under the new rule, employers will have to consult directly with the government and demonstrate that they could not hire U.S. workers.
  • All businesses that submit a request for an H-2B visa must enter that job position into a national electronic job registry program. This will help employers find U.S. workers and in turn help U.S. workers access job openings.
  • Immigrant workers will be protected with increased transparency throughout their employment period. This will be done through public disclosure of the methods of solicitation by overseas contractors and the agreements made between the worker and their employer. American workers will also have access to compensation for transportation costs to the job site and other wage benefits just as immigrant guest workers have.
  • These rules will be implemented on April 23, 2012.

The steps taken by the administration will safeguard H2-B visa workers and U.S. workers thus promoting justice on behalf of all workers.

REAL ID must be reassessed

In the aftermath of the tragic events of 9/11, Congress passed the REAL ID Act (H.R. 418). This bill, when fully implemented, would turn drivers’ licenses into a national ID card that would result in devastating consequences for U.S. citizens as well as immigrants. Several categories of documented immigrants, like victims of trafficking and asylees, could not obtain a driver’s license because their documentation issued by the government would not qualify as proof of their legal residency. Senior citizens, many of which do not have IDs that would be sufficient under the law, would also be unfairly affected. In addition, these documentation requirements put additional hardships on the states financially. The new licenses mandated will cost states an estimated $3.9 billion and the federal government has provided only $200 million in assistance. Please read our previous status report for more background on the REAL ID Act.

Most recently, the National Conference of State Legislatures stated has stated they are working to change the language in the bill so that states can comply with the mandate in a more efficient manner. Unfortunately, it is looking increasingly likely that a bill to repeal REAL ID will not be put forth.

We urge Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano once again to extend the deadline for compliance on this deeply flawed bill. In the upcoming months, NETWORK will continue to keep a watchful eye on this particular piece of legislation. Discriminatory bills like this are unacceptable in our country and unfairly place hardships on the most vulnerable.