The Corner

Politics & Policy

Secretary Nielsen, Don’t Make Your Old Boss a Liar

Kirstjen Nielsen on Capitol Hill, November 2017 (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

The immigration provisions of the omnibus monstrosity the president signed on Friday don’t just weaken enforcement — there’s also a sneaky increase in “temporary” foreign work visas.

Last year’s spending bill contained the same gimmick, that allows the secretary of Homeland Security to go beyond the 66,000 annual cap on H-2B visas for seasonal unskilled non-farm workers up to some higher (but not explicitly stated) number, if “the needs of American businesses cannot be satisfied.” The obscure wording in this year’s bill would seem to allow the secretary to admit up to 63,000 extra workers beyond the “cap.” By not specifying an actual number, Congress can avoid accountability, something it excels at.

White House chief of staff John Kelly was DHS secretary last year. He was not inclined to exercise the option to expand the number of visas, but Senator Thom Tillis (R., N.C.) basically blackmailed him by placing a hold on the confirmation of an important subordinate.

Kelly eventually gave in, providing extra visas to “businesses in danger of suffering irreparable harm due to a lack of available temporary nonagricultural workers” through a “one-time increase to the congressionally set annual cap.” (Emphasis added.)

The current DHS secretary is Kirstjen Nielsen, who was Kelly’s chief of staff when he made this “one-time” concession. It is now up to her to decide whether to pull the trigger on this crony-capitalist provision (also engineered by Tillis at the behest of North Carolina businesses) to enable U.S. landscaping companies (and golf courses and resorts and wineries) to import contract labor from abroad instead of recruiting American workers. If she does so, Kelly will face awkward questions about last year’s “one-time” decision: Will there be a “one-time” increase next year, too? Should we expect “one-time” increases every year? Does it depend on the meaning of words “one-time”?

P.S.: For a good overview, watch Senator Tom Cotton’s floor speech denouncing the H-2B gimmick in last year’s funding bill:

Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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