The funding bill recently approved by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama considerably extends the H-2B visa program, which allows temporary entry for non-specialized workers in such fields as gardening, restaurants, tourism and fish factories, among others. This isolated fact is harming the possibility – as remote as it is today – of comprehensive immigration reform.
This action, as well as another one included in the budget which raises the cost for employers wishing to bring specialized workers under the H-1B visa program, is representative of the despicable idea of a piecemeal approach to immigration reform.
Just like many Republican legislators want to secure the border before considering what to do with millions of undocumented workers, those measures take what would have been part of a mosaic on immigration to approve something separately by burying it into a 2,000-page law that must be approved or else.
Immigration is a very broad subject which has an impact on numerous sectors with conflicting interests. The political challenge is in reaching an agreement between opposing parts, seeking a balance towards a common goal, and achieving a balance through mutual sacrifices that would update our immigration laws. A basic compromise which helped the Senate reform move forward was achieved between unions and the Chamber of Commerce after a long negotiation.
The expansion, which could triple the current 66,000 H-2B visas granted per year, destroys this balance. A significant part of the private sector has already gotten what it wants through lobbying. If only they had the same persuasion powers, and will, to push for the undocumented workers who have been here for years the way they have done for temporary cheap labor.
The legalization of the undocumented immigrants will be achieved through comprehensive reform, which demands agreements that would grant work visas or tighten borders in exchange for regularization. You have to sweeten the pill somehow. This action on visas breaks the balance and isolates undocumented immigrants even further.