Immigrant labor
December 14, 2016

Republicans Set to Battle Over Legal Immigration

 |  By: Mike Opperman

Republican leaders in Washington D.C. agree on a number of issues, but it appears that battle lines are being drawn over legal immigration. An article in the Wall Street Journal says the debate turns on whether foreign workers are an engine for economic growth, as business interests say, or create unfair competition for Americans, a viewpoint shared by the more populist wing of the party.

Lobbyists on the business side of the debate are waiting to see if the Trump administration will use executive power to change the legal immigration system and whether support remains in Congress for pro-immigration policies long pushed by agriculture and other groups.

Supporters of legal immigration want expansion of visa programs and green card opportunities to enable more and greater access to legal workers. Critics say expansion of these programs enable the displacement of U.S. workers by foreign hires. Most Democrats have supported higher visa totals, though labor unions have voiced concern over the impact on U.S. jobs.

Some Republicans argue that immigrants fill jobs that Americans don’t want, something that dairy producers who hire immigrant labor are certainly familiar with. The article quotes Rep. Tom Rooney (R., Fla.) “There aren’t Floridians that are going into those groves and picking those oranges. It’s just not happening.”

Agriculture lobbying groups are preparing to defend the legal immigration system and push for its expansion. Various groups have established coalitions in several states hoping to build support for legal immigration programs. Craig Regelbrugge, national co-chairman of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform and an ag lobbyist said ag groups are preparing to oppose any push for new enforcement measures without increases in legal opportunities to employ foreign workers.

Other lawmakers say they plan to try to attach measures regarding legal immigration, including expansion of visa programs, to any legislation that toughens enforcement.