Ag amnesty, per-country caps, and WH immigration plan could be on the docket for new year

No Mas!

The second session of the 116th Congress began this week with a few unfinished immigration items. Between that and this year’s presidential elections, here’s what we can expect over the first few months of 2020…

2019 ended with the House of Representatives approving an amnesty for more than 1 million illegal farm workers and their families. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, H.R. 5038, would also expand the agricultural guest worker program to year-round jobs, create 40,000 new low-skilled green cards, and establish a modern-day system of indentured servitude for future farm workers.

While the legislation passed the House with bipartisan support, it was mostly along party lines. Only about two dozen Republicans (mostly in farm districts in the West and upper-Midwest) joined the Democrats in support of the bill. Still, the bipartisan support in the House is enough to have us on watch as it moves to the Republican-led Senate.

However, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who is the former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told an Iowa agricultural publication that the outlook for the House bill in the upper chamber is dim. Sen. Grassley said the Senate may look at the Ag labor issue in the new year, but on its own terms.

Earlier in 2019, the House easily passed H.R. 1044, the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act. The legislation would lift the per-country caps on employment-based green cards, allowing most future green cards to go to nationals from India. It’s likely that most House Members voted in favor of this legislation without fully understanding its impact.

While we don’t believe the bill would increase overall immigration levels, if passed, we do believe that most green cards would go only to foreign workers from a handful of countries. Since most workers from those countries work in the high-tech industry, it would add extra pressure to American high-tech workers who already face age discrimination and wage stagnation due to existing immigration policies. Further, it would reduce diversity within the legal immigration system, which could prompt even more people in Washington to push for permanent immigration increases.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has his own version in the Senate, S. 386, and has unsuccessfully asked for unanimous consent to pass the bill through the chamber. To date, the bill has been blocked by Sens. David Perdue (R-Ga.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), albeit not necessarily for the right reasons.

After Sen. Lee’s most recent failed attempt, he and Sen. Durbin have drafted an amended version of S. 386 that would increase overall immigration, but our Capitol Hill sources report that any attempts to ask for unanimous consent to pass the new version will also be blocked.

This is hopeful news, but things can change, and Sens. Lee and Durbin can always ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put it on the Senate calendar and have the bill go through regular order. One thing we know for certain is that Sen. Lee is determined to get this bill passed.

There hasn’t been much news recently about Jared Kushner’s attempt to remake the existing immigration system by eliminating chain migration and the visa lottery and replacing those green cards with a merit-based immigration system.

Most reports on the plan indicate that it would virtually guarantee immigration remains at more than a million a year.

Last we heard, Kushner was trying to rally Senate Republicans around his blueprint, so the Party could campaign on it during 2020. If so and if the plan maintains annual immigration at the current level, the Party would be turning away from a populist message of less immigration that had been emerging in recent years.

Now that we’re officially in an election year, we could see the Kushner plan turned into actual legislation and even voted on in the Senate. In the Democrat-led House, chances of a vote are unlikely.

Numbers USA ~ January 10, 2020