POLITICS

Trump Needs To Get His Story Straight On Low-Skilled Foreign Workers

03/08/2017 3:11 AM IST | Updated 03/08/2017 4:01 AM IST

The Trump administration got behind a proposal Wednesday that would dramatically curtail immigration to the U.S. The RAISE Act, sponsored by Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), would make it harder to come to the U.S. legally, and would favor foreigners with higher work skills and education levels.

Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to the president, told reporters that the proposal to cut back immigration ― a plan expected to face heavy opposition from Democrats and many Republicans ― was meant to help American workers who’ve been hurt by an influx of low-skilled labor.

“The president of the United States said, ‘I am taking a stand today for American workers and the American economy, and we’re putting American families first on immigration,’” Miller said, between arguments with individual reporters. “Our compassion, first and foremost, is for struggling American families.”

The idea is simple enough. By cutting back on the number of lower-skilled immigrants coming to the U.S., the theory goes, the administration can make more job openings available to American-born workers. And with a tighter labor market, employers will have to raise wages to the point where those Americans are willing to do the work.

Trouble is, Donald Trump has not been willing to actually test that theory ― either as a businessman or as president.

Trump’s family golf clubs, winery and Mar-a-Lago club infamously rely on seasonal foreign workers who come to the U.S. on visas, to be paid according to government-set prevailing wages.

When the Trumps apply for these visas with the government, they have to attest that they are having trouble finding locals to work as cooks, housekeepers and so on. According to BuzzFeed’s count, Mar-a-Lago and the Trump National Golf Club in nearby Jupiter, Florida, have between them asked for at least 230 foreign workers since Trump took office.

Trump insists it’s impossible to find good help during the high season in Florida. Perhaps Miller can connect Mar-a-Lago with some of those struggling American families.

Even more telling are the administration’s recent actions on the H-2B visa program ― the same one used year after year at Mar-a-Lago.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle have argued that the H-2B program undercuts local workers and depresses wages. But just two weeks ago, the White House said it would allow employers to bring in an additional 15,000 temporary workers from abroad under the program this fiscal year. The extra workers would help hotels, landscapers and other businesses that claim they can’t find enough Americans to do the jobs.

Judging from Trump’s plan to slash legal immigration, one would expect the White House to limit H-2B visas, not add them. If a Maine hotel can’t find a maid, it should have to raise its wages until an American applies for the gig ― or at least that’s what one would expect from Miller’s talk.

Then again, there’s no reason to think the two policies should be entirely consistent with one another: The administration’s actions on the H-2B program have an immediate, real-world effect on employment, whereas the immigration plan is a mostly theoretical exercise unlikely to become law.

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